515 Reasons the Debate is Changing

Minnesota Statute § 256.25 allows the state to seek reimbursement from the estate of a person who received old-age assistance once the person has died. If the deceased person was married, the surviving spouse is protected by the law, and may stay in the home (as the home is a part of the estate) until he or she dies.

But the reality for a longtime same-sex partner in Minnesota is much different. The surviving partner could lose his or her home—no matter whether the couple has been together for decades. At the most important moments of their lives, same-sex couples aren’t recognized by Minnesota law, and therefore cannot count on the same protections and responsibilities as their married friends, family members, or neighbors.

As a practical matter, whether a lien is enforced is “probably more of a political decision,” according to Rebecca Heltzer, of Heltzer & Burg, P.L.C. Heltzer who practices law in the Twin Cities GLBT community, adds, “Whom you vote for and whom the community elects have life-changing impacts on same-sex couples. Certainty will only come with a change in the law.”

Project 515, a new Minnesota-based organization, has set out to make change happen—to ensure that same sex couples and their families have equal rights and considerations under Minnesota law. The group believes the time is ripe for guaranteeing that all Minnesotans are treated equally under the law.

The idea for Project 515 arose after a 2006 Equality Minnesota poll found that almost 8 out of 10 Minnesotans believe gays and lesbians should be afforded the same rights and responsibilities as their heterosexual married counterparts. Most people are shocked to learn that 515 Minnesota state statutes specifically assign these rights to married couples only; same-sex couples in long-term relationships are left in the cold.

To help change the debate and increase awareness, in a recently released report, Project 515 highlighted the 515 Minnesota laws that treat unmarried couples unfairly. They affect us at our very core—they regulate our families, from birth to death; our finances; our legal rights to our children; and our health care.

The situation described above was experienced by Joy’s partner, Carol, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness late in 2004. By the time the disease had progressed to the point that Carol required full-time care, she already had spent most of her assets on medical bills. Carol applied for and was placed on medical assistance, which provided her with around-the-clock care in the final months of her life.

Following Carol’s death, the state placed a lien on her home—the one she had shared with Joy for more than 15 years. By law, the state had the legal power to enforce the lien, and recover the money it spent for Carol’s medical expenses. Joy was faced with the prospect of selling her home to pay off the state. However, had Joy and Carol been married, Minnesota law would have protected the home. (While this story is true, the names of the people were changed at their request.)

Is this the kind of state we want to live in? Most Minnesotans are appalled by the unfairness of Carol and Joy’s situation. Many would agree this is not how we want to treat our citizens.

It is from these stories and more that Project 515 knows we can change the debate. Share yours with us. Once Minnesotans recognize the harm in not treating people fairly, the debate around same-sex relationships will change.

Help Project 515 work for equality by telling us your story, or by donating your time or money. Go to <www.project515.org>.

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