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A Tale of Two Worlds: Religion, estranged parents, a tug-of-war over a grave

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kevinbgoode Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 01:19 AM
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A Tale of Two Worlds: Religion, estranged parents, a tug-of-war over a grave
This is likely to turn into a rant - and as I have no journal, I'm afraid I'm using the pages here to raise a topic which is so long overdue in our culture that it enrages me every time I see another case of what I call "deceased abuse."

In most of the rhetoric pushed by the Right and their dictatorial "religious" followers, we get lots of vague "sacred" and "sanctity" arguments about same-sex marriage. In passing and promoting constitutional amendments to "protect" marriage in a couple dozen states, The Right has repeatedly pointed to individual contracts which single people - or those who are unmarriageable - may use to secure all of the same rights which come naturally to the morally superior.

What we don't talk about very often is the horrendously evil and disgraceful way the states (and, for that matter, legally recognized "family" members, handle their special rights to dip into the lives of gay Americans and steal property, dump a surviving partner onto the street, and, in this case, attempt to legally steal a GRAVE.

There are few things more hideous to me than to watch the outrageous behavior of surviving humans hovering like vultures around the physical remains of those who have left. A decade ago, I watched as two close friends (who were a couple for ten years) died within a couple of years of each other and were buried 150 miles apart. During the same-sex marriage "debate" in Missouri, a surviving gay partner's story was told in the Springfield Missouri newspaper as he grieved at how the body of his partner was fought over in a court of law, exhuned from the deceased's chosen grave, and moved to an undisclosed location by some legally "recognized" family member. It makes my stomach churn.

We live in a society in which the laws governing our basic decisions about our universal life experiences are dated back to the goddamned Victorian era - and sometimes beyond. Over half of the adult population is NOT MARRIED in this country, and yet we live under a set of laws which assumes that all unmarried people must remain on the family farm or assume some identity as a "spinster" or "bachelor" to be pitied and taken care of by his/her parents for the rest of their days. Over half of our adult population are defacto "wards" of the STATE, in which our ascendancy into adulthood is marked not by autonomy and the right to make our own decisions, but by forced adherence to some by-gone reality which just simply no longer exists in this country.

So before anyone mentions that I sound "anti-family," let me try to explain. There are adult citizens in this country who are, for a variety of reasons, estranged from their families. A significant percentage of gay Americans experience this estrangement often because of the interfering teachings of some con-artist, con-servative "Church" which was the choice-par-indoctrination from their parents. In too many cases, when the maturing or grown child "comes out" as gay, one or both parents choose to ostracize that child from the family. This is part of what con-artist con-servatives call "family values." I call it unethical and immoral state and religious tyranny.

The adult child forms his own relationships (whether a partner or not) - his own trusted friendships, perhaps some siblings who have not purchased the parental religious nonsense. The adult child is supposed to be FREE to choose his OWN religious affiliation - yet the laws of most states still allow the parents first access to his personal effects, dominion over his funeral, and the right to take property if something happens to that adult child. In many states, the STATE has more power than a person you live with to make decisions over the disposal of your body and personal effects.

It seems to me that the original statutes governing such matters were written to clearly LIMIT state interference in private relationships. The State, it was reasoned, must be able to show some inherent threat to public health, for example, to assert any say in the funeral arrangements of a citizen. Yet, the Right annexes these old statutes, many of which were clearly written to reflect a rural society with generational ties to the family farm, and demands they be considered "incidents of marriage" while passing constitutional amendments prohibiting any SINGLE person from seeking a change in those statutes. It is not only unconscionable - it is absolute tyranny.

I'm middleaged and no longer have a partner - and I'm not married. My elderly parents don't WANT to make decisions about my life - or death. I rarely see my siblings because of distance and schedule - which is a rather common reality in America today. I don't want THEM making decisions. So this seems all so simple, doesn't it? Just draft a few legal documents, spend a few hundred dollars for the same things which hetero justice-of-the-peace married people get for $15, draft a will, and life is all good.

I was reading several blogs tonight which told the story of yet another surviving gay spouse who was desperately struggling to afford to continue to fight for his partner's wishes against the demands of estranged parents. The story is so familiar to many of us in the gay community that it makes me nauseous to think so few people outside our world seem to understand how utterly disgraceful and horrific this can be, particularly when surviving parties are trying to grieve.

I'm going to take clippings from several stories about this couple (and I'll provide the links) so hopefully you won't need to read each link to put most of the story together. I'll try to do this so you can jump from excerpt to excerpt to get much of the story, and can click links for more details:

For Kevin-Douglas Olive of Baltimores Seton Hill, the battle only began once his partner Russell Groff (l.) died from staph infection in November 2004 at the age of 26. Groff was buried in a rural Tennessee cemetery that the partners had agreed on in a will and burial agreements. Both were from Tennessee.

But Groffs parents, Lowell and Carolyn Groff, had challenged the burial site and the right of Olive to be executor since July 2005. The expensive legal battles that have ensued and are continuing to strap the finances of Olive to the point he must sell his car and try to raise funds to ward off the Groffs challenges.

Russell Groffs parents have been virulently anti-gay, which is ostensibly motivating them in their pursuit to deny their sons expressed wishes. They even did a Fred Phelps-like protest during Knoxville, TNs LGBT "Come Out Knoxville" celebration.

According to the Knoxville Metro Pulse, Carolyn Groff blames the "destructive gay lifestyle" for the death of her son, an aspiring playwright. "He wasnt like that until he got involved in the theater group at Maryville College," she explains. Several other members of her Bible Baptist Church brought signs denoting that gays are destined to hell. Their brand of Christianity drove Russell away from the Christian church and joined Kevin as a Quaker after they met.

Kevin-Douglas Olive still remembers talking to his partner Russell Groff about his grave.

Groff wanted to be buried in a cemetery along the gentle slopes outside Knoxville, Tenn. It was a reasoned choice. The land is close to where both were raised and large enough to accommodate a second plot.

"We had this romantic notion of being buried next to each other," Olive said. "Forever and ever."

snip. . .

Groff's parents, who could not be reached this week by the Blade, have argued in court that the 26-year-old man didn't know what he was doing when he completed his will. Olive said Groff had been estranged from his parents when he died.

Olive, a 34-year-old Baltimore resident, disagrees. He said Groff knew precisely what he was doing. And to move the body now, nearly two years after Groff's death, is something Olive can't bear to imagine.

"Moving him is not honoring who he was," he said. "It's really -- it's really disturbing."

snip. . .

Olive and Groff met the week after Valentine's Day in 1998, when Olive was 25 and Groff was 20.

"He was amazing. He was brilliant," Olive said. "I was the voice, he was the wisdom."

Their relationship bloomed, and the two moved to Baltimore together in July 2000. Three years later, they were married according to local Quaker tradition.

Olive said the blissful marriage was interrupted in 2004 when Groff, who was HIV positive, fell ill.

Groff was hospitalized in October 2004, but seemed to recover. Olive said Groff was transferred to another facility to help his recovery, but soon developed new problems.

Groff was transferred to another hospital, where Olive could only watch as his partner faded.

Olive said the grave, located about 30 minutes from Groffs childhood home, was to remain simple and clean. But Groffs mother, Carolyn, made changes.

She made it into this shrine that really offended the sensibilities of the Quakers, he said, because were all about simplicity.

Olive said Carolyn routinely decorated the grave. At one point, she posted a picture of Groff with his female prom date, plus a poem Carolyn wrote wherein her son essentially apologized for being gay.

I was so insulted by seeing this, Olive said. She was trying to paint him as this repentive person who was heterosexual, really.

After seeing that picture and poem, Olive said he could tolerate no more and cleaned his husbands gravesite.

When I cleared the grave, that was the final straw for her, he said. She filed the caveat and challenged the will.

Here it is, the summer of 2007, and Mr. Olive is still involved in a fight over the place of burial. Now why the hell is that still going on? Partially because the laws of most states are so outrageously outdated and ill-conceived to deal with the REALITY of American culture today. And partially because we, as Americans, adamantly REFUSE to deal with what happens in far too many families (gay and straight) when a member passes on. Now why exactly is that the case, and why can we NOT expect our government to change the laws so that each individual American has control over his/her destiny in life AND death without the outrageous interference of those who have chosen to TOSS us from families or, worse, whose memberships in nutcase CHURCHES dictate that they have to disrupt their own families?

Now I don't know much about the parents except from the posts and stories I've read. But it appears to me that she made her choices and feels guilty about them now, and yet her fu*ked up, personally selected, buffet Church caused her to make decisions she may (or may not) regret now. That's her problem. Her SON was well beyond legal age, chose to embrace his own religion by his own free will (are not all Americans entitled to that choice? - or is only the Southern Baptist Church and our parents the only ones allowed to indoctrinate us?) and had a relationship that was certainly long enough to be recognized. But why should he have had to be in a relationship anyway?
Is it REALLY the role of our state governments to treat those of us who are not married, or constitutionally declared by the wingnut Right influences as "unmarriageable" as aging children with no real control over our adulthood unless we cart around a filing cabinet of papers - which can, apparently be challenged until our surviving, chosen family is bankrupt fighting to keep us in our damned grave?

I know many of you have some kind of similar story. I know that because I see and hear stories from all kinds of families on occasions, yet we push this stuff into the background of our minds as if this is not an issue to handle. It is, in my opinion, a COMPELLING example of the tyranny of certain religious beliefs and our government in reducing our citizenship to nothing more than semi-free WARDS. It doesn't even matter if you are gay, or in a gay relationship. It need only matter if you are unmarried. And for the government to hold control over some of the most basic, universal life experiences which every single person who is born onto this planet must experience and tie them to "marriage-ONLY" is, in my mind, simple tyranny.

This is where I am going to come off as a spoiled little jerk. I don't want to have to get this legal paper, that legal paper, this little card, that little document, this will, this power of attorney, this declaration of medical decisions...and on and on. . .when two people of the opposite sex only have to slap down $15 and automatically get control over each others lives. Is there some reason why the rest of us MUST be forever treated as nothing more than the children of our aging parents with little ability to make decisions about our own lives (and deaths) and families?

Most of us know our families. We know the good members, and the members we shiver about having to spend more than ten minutes around once a year. We know those who we can trust and we know those we can't. We also know that often, those we trust don't end up getting to honor our requests because of the order of casting provided by the State in deciding such matters.

It is way past time this country open up a real discussion about these realities.

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MADem Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 01:31 AM
Response to Original message
1. There is no substitute in these cases for an iron-clad will
Where the individual(s) with the estranged parents leave something to the intolerant bastards, something perhaps, that will annoy them a bit, and then put one of those clauses that say "If you challenge the will, you're cut out of it."

And then, get vigorous with choice of executors. Maybe the significant other/partner/spouse (depending on state) AND a shark of a lawyer that knows the situation and won't allow any crap.

Then, there's always the video deposition--that often shuts people up, especially if the person making the tape is very, very blunt and plainspoken.
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murielm99 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 02:14 AM
Response to Reply #1
5. The video deposition is a good idea.
The shark lawyer works, too.

My mother-in-law had a will and a trust. She made sure that it was iron-clad. Anyone who challenged it was cut out. I am pretty sure that the trust was dissolved when all the property was distributed. But it seemed to reinforce what she wanted. Maybe that does not work in all states. I am not a lawyer.

My mother-in-law was not a multi-millionaire. But she did have farm property and other assets. She wanted to be sure that her children and grandchildren treated each other fairly, and got what she wanted them to have. If she had not done this, the fighting could have gone on for years. That seems to happen even in otherwise loving families.
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izzie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 01:40 AM
Response to Original message
2. I think when someone dies we see the 'real' people come out.
I just think it is a cold body and the person is still in your mind so I try never to think what happens to the body. Why people just do not do a reasonable thing is beyond me but I think over the years I have heard all types of stories.
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Lithos Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 01:58 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. I know what you mean
It's a vicious world.

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murielm99 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 02:06 AM
Response to Original message
4. The laws have to change.
The laws absolutely much be changed to stop these kinds of travesties.

My daughter is bisexual. She was in a relationship with a woman for six years. I thought it was permanent. The breakup was very hard on her. She came home to live here for a few months, partly because of finances, and partly because she needed a place to heal.

I believe quite firmly that the relationship would have survived if it could have been recognized legally. Her partner would have thought twice about straying if there had been legal and formal vows. I am not saying that to be bitchy. I think it is true for heterosexuals, too.

I know that my marriage vows and the legal trappings that accompany them mean more to me than if I were simply living with someone. Of course people divorce. Of course married people cheat. Of course they should not take the decision to marry lightly.

Breaking and untangling a legally recognized relationship makes one think twice, or at least it should.

Now, my daughter and her former partner have to untangle the shared finances of six years together. They did keep many things separate, but they could still end up in court over a few shared items, and charges of , "You owe me this...No, you owe me that." And people will snicker and trivialize their former relationship because they are two women. It is so unfair.

And these two were fortunate. Both my husband and I, and her former partner's family, would never have kept them out of each other's hospital rooms, or overturned their wills and dying wishes.

My daughter is dating a man now, but on a very casual basis. She is treading lightly about any new relationship. But the reactions are typical. I can see the relief, and the greater acceptance, even in allegedly understanding family members now that they see her with a man. The only thing I ever worried about was her safety in this homophobic culture. And supposedly understanding family and friends seem to have a great deal of trouble understanding bisexuality. I guess I should be happy that they are trying to understand. But if she were to marry this man, or some other, they would look on her past relationships as a phase. They would be relieved over that, too, which is equally unfair.

I like your point about "sacred" and "sanctity." I think there is a difference between the two that the fundies never seem to specify.

GLBT people cannot carry the day alone on changing the laws. It needs to be pushed hard, by people like me, and other heterosexual friends of the GLBT community. I am glad to see Elizabeth Edwards speaking up. We need many more like her.

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Maru Kitteh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 02:24 AM
Response to Original message
6. I'm going to admit right up front I didn't read the whole post because it doesn't matter WHO
you are.

Make a living will and if you need one, a property will.

Use a laywer if you want, or, DON'T.

Just make one. Has not shit to do with being gay or not, married or not, rich or not, etc. Just ask the two camps of Terry Schaivo about that.

Just make one.

If you are not willing to do that, if you are not responsible enough to do that, . . . . . Shut. Up.
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kevinbgoode Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 10:26 AM
Response to Reply #6
8. Apparently the will can be contested by the "legally recognized"
family members, as in the case of this story. And the person forced to defend the estate can go bankrupt in the process.
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kevinbgoode Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 11:24 AM
Response to Reply #6
10. And does a will mean anything if a "family" member
can stake the claim that no gay person, according to their "religious" beliefs, can be of sound mind at any time of their lives?

This is, unfortunately, not a new situation. It has been repeated over and over and over again around this country where wills from that community are challenged. It used to be quite easy for a court to overturn our wishes based on nothing more than the belief a gay person was mentally unstable - or "sick." It's no coincidence that the Right continues to use that argument, basing it on their own selective, hyped "religious" beliefs.

The laws must be changed. And I'm not just talking about "marriage" laws - I mean the statutes, period. We are NOT wards of the STATE, or dependent children of our parents unless we legally marry.
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Solly Mack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 04:13 AM
Response to Original message
7. Back in 1984, a man who was very much a part of our family died from
an AIDS related illness. He was my cousin's partner for many years, and remained close to our family even when their relationship ended. He was family.

His ex-wife of many years, from a marriage made in fear and denial, managed to gain legal control over his body (and estate)...contrary to everything he had requested. She buried him in another state far away - in a plot next to her own future burial site.

It was as if all his life spent being exactly who he really was was just wiped away because he was gay...and in his death an effort was made to give lie to his life instead of honoring the person he was...

Not even death freed him from the hate and ignorance of others

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riderinthestorm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 11:19 AM
Response to Original message
9. Way too important to drop off the front page of GD. K&R. nt
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kevinbgoode Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-16-07 01:47 PM
Response to Reply #9
11. Thanks. . .
I think this is a very important issue as well. . .and one which we need to be vigilant about in dealing with our state governments.
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