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Why a statewide domestic partnership registry matters to me.

April 1, 2013
By

deathbringsout

This morning, Equality Florida published the testimony I had intended to give before the Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs in support of Senate Bill 196 on March 12. That hearing was postponed when Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, fell unexpectedly ill. Today, the bill will have another hearing at 3:15 p.m. (which you can stream live here). Attorney Mary Meeks – who has represented me for the last year – will be testifying, and citing my story. [UPDATE: THE BILL PASSED THE COMMITTEE BY 5-4 MARGIN. "WE HAVE MADE HISTORY IN THE FLORIDA SENATE," SEN. SOBEL] This week marks one year since my partner of 11 years, Alan, passed away (April 8, 2012, Easter Sunday). I’ll be detailing the legal nightmares that followed his death in next week’s Orlando Weekly (April 10) as a means of explaining why the estate planning option that Republicans are clinging to isn’t enough in our darkest hours. While nothing short of equality is ever enough, SB 196 would go some way in validating committed relationships like the one I was lucky enough to have. I can’t tell you how difficult it is dredging up all of these memories and making sense of them, but I think it’s important. I hope you do too. Alan was the love of my life.

alanbillywedding

Here is my testimony:

Dear Senators,

I came to Tallahassee on March 12 to deliver the following testimony before your committee with regard to SB 196. The bill was temporarily postponed that day, but seeing as you’re hearing it again on April 1 – and I am not able to deliver it in person – I hope you’ll take a moment to consider my story. I also hope that you will do the right thing and vote “Yes” on the domestic partnership registry. It could really help people when they need it the most. It would have helped me. Thank you for your time.

Billy Manes

Staff Writer, Orlando Weekly

1505 East Colonial Drive

Orlando, FL 32803

407-377-0400 x235
—-

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for having me. My name is Billy Manes. I’m a journalist from Orlando, Florida. I wish I were here to talk about someone else’s story, but I’m not.

I met my partner, Alan Jordan, in January 2001. We were opposites—he a former football player at Auburn University with a southern drawl and the politics to match, me, a liberal extrovert. But nonetheless we quickly fell in love. In 2002, we bought a house together, though my name wasn’t on the deed, and we set about forming our family—our dogs, our friends, our birthday parties and backyard barbeques. He was my rock, my support. I was full of big ideas, and he was heavy with reason. When I ran for mayor of Orlando in 2005, he was my treasurer and coach. He believed in me. It would be no exaggeration to say that he saved my life.

I supported him too. When he got his pilot’s license, I bit my lip and flew in his single-engine puddle-jumper. When his father died in 2006 and he made the decision to commute back and forth to Georgia to take care of his mother, I held down the fort in Orlando. When his health started to deteriorate, I was there every step of the way—doctor’s offices, therapists, disability, you name it.

In 2008, as Amendment 2 loomed, we contacted an attorney and executed all of the documents available to LGBT families in Florida: power of attorney, health surrogate, and a will, among others. We were as much a legal couple as the laws of the state of Florida permitted us to be.

On Easter Sunday of last year, after a long battle with health problems and depression, Alan shot himself in the chest in the backyard of our house. I screamed; I tried to resuscitate him; I called 911. But it was no use.

He was gone.

The police came. They checked my hands for gunpowder. After three hours, the ambulance took away his body.

Before I’d even washed his blood out of my hair, Alan’s brother showed up on my doorstep. In the next 24 hours, he identified Alan’s body at the morgue, had it cremated without my knowledge or consent, changed his address with the postmaster, and began walking around my house identifying items that the family thought belonged to them: a lawnmower, tools, guns, the commitment rings on my fingers. They ignored the fact that everything in our house belonged to both of us.

I was in shock and distraught, as you can imagine. But I still made clear to them, as I gave them the will that left everything to me, that I wanted to work with the family in a manner that was fair for both of us. I understood that they were in pain—and that they didn’t know that Alan was in a relationship with a man. Because Alan’s sexuality was touchy subject in his hometown of Rome, Georgia, his family didn’t talk or want to know about his personal life. Alan’s brother and a friend of his drove away with two cars that were registered in my name because they thought they were Alan’s cars. In my own panic, I let that happen.

I threw a memorial service to celebrate Alan, and hundreds of people showed up—including the mayor of Orlando and former state representative Scott Plakon. An attorney friend was at the service as well, and offered her services should I need them.

Before we could even file the will in Orange County court, I learned that the family had already opened a probate case listing Alan’s mother as his personal representative and sole beneficiary.

What followed was a nightmare. On top of my grief and uncertainty and horror, I found myself having to fight to claim what our legal documents already said was mine. I obtained a court order to correct the probate and to get the items that had been removed from my house returned. However, after thousands of dollars and months and of legal wrangling I gave up. I sacrificed most of the assets to which I was legally entitled for the sake of my sanity.

I don’t think that the family was acting capriciously—at least now I don’t. They, like me, were grieving, trying to come to terms with an unspeakable loss. Death so often brings out the worst in people.

I struggled with the idea of coming here today, of making my story public. But in my heart, I know that this is what Alan would have wanted. In fact, as difficult as the last year has been, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I knew my rights. I had attorneys looking out for me. I had a strong circle of supportive friends and family. I had a job that cared about my personal situation.

Not every gay man or lesbian is so lucky. Since Alan’s death, I’ve spoken with several members of the LGBT community who, when faced with the devastating death of a partner, lost everything. And this could have been me: My name wasn’t on the deed to my house. I could easily have been homeless. I didn’t have a right to anything that was in Alan’s name—not our mutual savings, not his inheritance, not even our cars – because I didn’t have the inherent legal right to inherit Alan’s estate, which this Bill would correct. This Bill can save people from suffering through what I went through, at the worst time of my life.

And so I’m here to ask you to right this wrong. I recognize that under the state’s constitution, I am unable to marry the person I love. And he’s gone anyway. But how can we, as a state, in good conscience, even as we praise the family as the backbone of our society, deny even the most basic, fundamental rights to hundreds of thousands of your constituents who pay their taxes, go to work, and play by the rules?

I don’t believe that I’m asking for much. I’m not asking for the right to marry, or the right to a civil union. I’m not even here to ask you to recognize that the love Alan and I shared is equal to the love you have for your spouse, although that would be nice.

All I’m asking for is compassion and dignity. Please don’t let that be too much.

Thank you.

Billy Manes

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  • Nadine

    Thanks for sharing your story Billy. We are closer to the day when equality will be the law of the land.

  • Mara

    What an incredibly amazing piece. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/perfecthannah Hannah Miller

    It hurts so much to think about how much we hurt each other. Please, Florida, legalize same sex marriage already.

  • zengrrl

    My heart goes out to you with this, and it really is one more example of why we do need marriage equality – or at least this domestic partner registry in the meantime.

  • Adria

    That was just wonderful. Tears are in my eyes. If they can’t do this bare minimum of the right thing, then I will be more than disappointed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessy.hamilton Jessy Hamilton

    <3

  • Diane

    I am so sorry for your loss, and for the cascade of indignities that followed it. Thanks for having the courage to share.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbaraebj Barbara Elizabeth Bj

    What is a State Domestic Partnership Registry? The word “Registry” makes me extremely nervous; it harkens to a time in Europe and even way back in times of religious stories when other such registries seemed helpful to governments — but all of those registries were used to harm one group or another.

    What would a State Domestic Partnership Registry do for the LGBTQ community that is positive FOR the LGBTQ community?

  • amazonfeet

    This is why I believe in marriage equality. I’m absolutely sick of self-righteous bigots committing grand larceny against the GLBT community and getting away with it…

  • Eric

    A very brave story!

  • Liza

    As I read this, I weep. My hope and prayer is that through your suffering others will be spared.

  • orlandodown

    maybe Billy ought to run for office instead of publishing that communist rag.

  • missnovembertues

    My husband and I are just a month away from our 24th anniversary. I hate that there are still SO many people in this country who can not celebrate each year together knowing they are recognized the way we are. And not being able to protect your home and the remnants of the life you shared after one person is gone is just terrifying. I want to cry reading this. It makes my stomach hurt. I wish you the best and hope that his family will come around and maybe return some of your things and make some of it right. I feel for them, too, but when you are feeling that pain, how can you not understand the pain someone else is having? It is all so sad.

  • ELLEVONS

    I am from California and the plight of LBGT couples out here is also a nightmare for them. Although I am straight and a Catholic, I voted against Proposition 8 because it smacked of bigotry. The largest contributer to the Prop 8 people was the Mormon Church (they themselves a much maligned group) and it was purely bigotry from them. For all the griping of the religious right about government interference in their lives, they come up with a littany of laws that puts government right in the most intimate parts of other’s lives through “Legislating Morality”. Billy you and all the rest of the LGBT community deserve much better.