Monday, August 06, 2007

Star Finally Takes A Look At Atkins Custody Battle And Implications For Gay Rights

More than a month after the Star ran a feature story about Jeanne Atkins taking time out during the work day to lead her employees at Atkins Elegant Desserts in Fishers in daily prayers, the Star has finally run a story about Atkins custody battle with her gay son's lifetime partner after he became disabled after falling seriously ill from a stroke in 2005. Although her son, Patrick, had spent 25 years living as a lifetime partner with Brent Conrad, the Atkins family never approved of the relationship and denied Conrad visitation rights after Atkins fell ill. A Hamilton Co. court awarded guardianship to Atkins' parents despite the 25-year relationship between Atkins and Conrad in large part because the two had not executed a durable power of attorney in favor of Conrad. An Indiana Court of Appeals decision upheld the trial court's awarding of the guardianship to Atkins' parents; however, it found the court abused its discretion in allowing the Atkins to deny visitation rights to Conrad because the guardian ad litem had found Conrad's visitation helpful to Atkins.

The GLBT community was angered by the Atkins' family actions upon learning of the court's decision. Jeanne Atkins is quoted in the court's opinion as stating that homosexuality is a "grievous sin" and that anyone who accepts homosexual relationships is a "sinner" and "evil." Another statement by Jeanne indicating she would rather her son Patrick not recover than return to a relationship with Conrad was particularly disturbing to many. Interestingly, the Star's story adds a comment stating that Jeanne Atkins denies ever making that statement, although she concedes she would probably never let Conrad visit her son unless she is required by law to do so. The Star fails to mentions its earlier story about Jeanne Atkins' practice of leading the employees of Atkins Elegant Desserts in daily prayers.

As for the decision's implication for gay rights, the Star quotes Rev. Jeff Miner as saying "nothing short of marriage rights can provide the legal shield necessary to defend against a partner's relatives." Of course, he's wrong. As the story notes, if Patrick had simply executed a durable power of attorney appointing Conrad as his health care representative, Conrad would have become Patrick's legal guardian by operation of law. Even some of the most outspoken critics of gay marriage, however, have conceded laws should protect gay couples in such instances with such simple rights as visitation rights. Indiana has no such law. It does, however, have a Defense of Marriage Law barring same-sex couples from legally marrying. And if folks like the Indiana Family Institute's Curt Smith have their way, Indiana will also have a constitutional amendment barring recognition of same-sex marriages and any other similar rights for unmarried couples.

"The problem isn't the couple couldn't get married," said Curt Smith, president of the conservative Indiana Family Institute. "The energy from the intervention comes from the parents' disapproval. . . . They think it's wrong, and that's not something the law can address." On that point, Smith is just dead wrong. Laws can be enacted to recognize rights between same-sex couples short of recognizing their relationship as a marriage. That may not be possible, however, if Indiana enacts the expansive reach of the proposed constitutional amendment Smith and his religious right colleagues are pushing.


Anonymous said...

Gotta love the Star. Four weeks after it was broken on blogs, they pipe up. Disgraceful.

You may hate Smith's proclamation, but under current Indiana law, unfortunately, he's right.

Reason No. 14 that my partner and I got a durable power of attorney a month ago. It cost $450 to get it set up.

Best money I ever spent.

Any gay couple that reads this has the same reaction. It's a noticeable physical and emotional cringe. And a question: how is Mr. Atkins doing these days? His brain may be diminished, and his body may not be the same it was before this stroke, but you can bet his heart is broken.

Oh yeah--was a huge Atkins fan before all this. I considered myself a cheerleader for their excellent products. Never again will that stuff cross my lips. (Damn it)

Hate is not a family value.

Anonymous said...

OMG, they finally brought it up? And you should read the comments posted under it. Even our supporters get nasty quickly. It's always good to read this now and then to remember that there are people who ARE that ignorant out there, just when you were felling safe in your own little bubble.

By the way, Gary, isn't it likely that Atkins' mother would have challenged the POA and may have been successful if she got the right court?

Isn't it also true that MANY 40 somethings have no will, no POA with a partner, even heterosexuals?

Hindsight is 20/20.

Gary R. Welsh said...

The answer is probably "yes" to both questions, anon 9:24, although I think a court would have been hard-pressed to overturn a properly executed POA absent a showing of fraud or incompetence at the time of execution.

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? If the mother testified that she would rather see her son not recover than be united with his partner, why on earth did the Hamilton County judge rule in her favor?! Clearly she does not have her son's best interests at heart. Shame on her.

No cheesecake for me.

RebeccaInTexas said...

I am an opponent of same-sex marriage, but I find this behavior by Ms. Atkins disturbing.