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All too often, the quest for civil rights for LGBT persons in the United States has been pushed to the back burner in recent years.  But a recently filed lawsuit in California demonstrates chillingly just how essential this battle is, and how nothing but equal civil marriage rights for LGBT persons is enough.

Clay and his partner of 20 years, Harold, lived in California. Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place—wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.

One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

Ignoring Clay’s significant role in Harold’s life, the county continued to treat Harold like he had no family and went to court seeking the power to make financial decisions on his behalf. Outrageously, the county represented to the judge that Clay was merely Harold’s "roommate." The court denied their efforts, but did grant the county limited access to one of Harold’s bank accounts to pay for his care.

This was hardly the end of Clay Greene's suffering at the hands of Sonoma County.  The County proceeded to remove Greene from his home against his will and had him confined to a nursing home.  They then proceeded, without being granted the authority by the courts, to auction off his and his partners possessions and to have his lease terminated on his home.

Three months after his fall, Harold passed away in the hospital.  Because of the actions of Sonoma County, Clay and Harold were unable to spend that time together.  Due to their further actions, Clay Greene has lost nearly every possession that he and his partner shared.  With the help of several attorneys and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Mr. Greene is suing the County along with the auction company and the nursing home.  But no victory in court will return to him the chance to be with his partner at the end of his life, or the mementos of decades spent together.

The failure to provide truly equal rights for LGBT persons in America gives bigots and bureaucrats the opportunity to destroy lives, particularly in people's most vulnerable moments.  It makes it easy for them.

And we have a responsibility to protect them.  The time to do so is not merely now, but yesterday, and long before that.  What will we tell the Clay Greene's of our nation if we continue to fail to act?

Originally posted to Jay Elias on Mon Apr 19, 2010 at 09:12 PM PDT.

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