Samuels and Gallagher v. NY - About the Plaintiffs

Document Date: April 7, 2004

Samuels and Gallagher v. NY: About the Plaintiffs

Kathy Burke and Tonja Alvis

Tonja and Kathy with their son, Sean.

Kathy, 43, and Tonja, 35, have been together for six years, and live in Schenectady. Kathy is an RN in an emergency room, and once delivered a baby in a van stuck in traffic. Tonja works as a shipping and receiving clerk at a local lighting fixtures store. Tonja has no health insurance because she can't afford the plan offered by her employer and Kathy's employer doesn't offer domestic partner health benefits.

The couple has two children, Kathy's boys from a previous marriage. Kathy and Tonja raised their 19-year-old son together and are still raising their nine-year-old. They are both involved with his school and attend the Parent Teacher Association together.

Carol Snyder and Heather McDonnell

Heather, 51, is an administrator at Sarah Lawrence College, and Carol, 60, is a teacher in New York City. Together 14 years, they live in White Plains. Carol has two adult daughters, who lived with them while they were in college, and Heather also has a daughter who lived with them until she was 18.

Carol survived breast cancer 12 years ago. The couple purposefully sought out a surgeon who was gay-friendly, but the nurses and other staff constantly challenged Heather during Carol's hospital stay. They would tell her she was staying too long even though the doctor had said she could stay as long as she wanted. They repeatedly demanded to know who she was, saying things like, ""Who are you? Why are you here? Are you her sister?"" All of this was happening just after they'd found out that Carol had stage two cancer, making her ordeal even more upsetting.

After that experience, they registered as domestic partners and signed health proxies for each other. Even with these legal documents, Heather had to assert herself once again in January 2003 when Carol had a cardiac event following a bad reaction to medication. At one point as Carol's vital signs were crashing, the doctor who was working to save her told Heather to keep talking to her and help hold her down because Carol would respond to her better than anyone else. Afterwards a nurse who had been present as the doctor worked to save Carol's life tried to make Heather leave Carol's hospital room. When Heather pointed out that she was Carol's health care proxy, the nurse demanded, ""Who are you?""

Amy Tripi and Jeanne Vitale

Amy, 38, is a nonprofit fundraiser and Jeanne, 42, is a video editor. They've been together for eight years. They first met through friends 11 years ago. Amy and Jeanne registered as domestic partners in New York City in February of 2001 and moved to Highland four years ago.

Amy recently gave birth to the couple's first child. Since they're both self-employed, she and Jeanne both have individual health insurance. Amy estimates that now that their daughter has been born their family health insurance will cost them almost $2000 a year more than it would if they were married.

Below is an excerpt from the email Jeanne sent out to the couple's friends to announce the wedding they had hoped to have in New Paltz until the mayor was forced to stop performing them.

?I want to be equal under the law. I want to be married to Amy and spend the rest of my life with her. After seven years together, we already know we're married in our hearts, but to be able to get married for real? has meant more to us than we realized. In terms of me personally, well, it's kind of like standing up and saying to the world that my love is real and valid and true and a gift from God and I am prouder of my relationship with Amy than I am of anything else in my whole life. It is the best thing that's ever happened to me. It's nothing to hide and it is not less than anyone else's love. Love is love.

Wade O. Nichols and Francis Shen

Wade, 35, and Francis, 37, are a binational couple - Wade is from the United States and Francis is from Taiwan. They've been together for six years. The couple celebrated their commitment in Taipei in a large public ceremony with 100 friends, coworkers, and family members three years ago.

Because of immigration laws, Francis can't stay long term in the U.S. and Wade can't stay long term in Taiwan without work sponsorship. Not being able to live together in the same country has been very difficult for Wade and Francis. Usually they live in Taiwan because it's easier for Wade to get work sponsorship there than it is for Francis to get such sponsorship here. When Wade was in graduate school at Columbia University, the couple was forced to live apart except for short visits from Francis on tourist visas. Wade felt he had no choice but to sell a home he bought before meeting Francis, because they can't live there together and Wade can't look after it when he's in Taiwan. And when Wade suffered a death in the family, he was unable to be with his relatives to offer support because he was in Taiwan at the time.

Michael Hahn and Paul Muhonen

Michael, 40, and Paul, 45, have been together for 23 years and lived in Binghamton until a few months ago, when they went to Florida to care for Paul's elderly ailing parents. They met while working one summer at Yellowstone National Park. While they were in New York, Paul did not have health insurance through his job, and Michael's employer didn't offer domestic partner benefits.

When Paul relocated from Florida to his job in Binghamton, he was promised reimbursement for moving expenses, but when his employer found out Michael was a gay partner, he refused to pay the moving expenses. He said he considered it to be the same as paying for the move of a friend or roommate and felt he was not obliged to do that.

Michael and Paul rented a home as they look for a house to buy together in Binghamton. In 2002, the owner of one possible rental home asked point-blank if they were gay. When they answered honestly, he refused to rent to them.
Danny O'Donnell and John Banta

Danny and John, both 44, live together in New York City. They met on their first day of college in 1978 and have been together for almost 25 years. Danny is the first openly gay man to be elected to the New York State Assembly. Before he took office, he was as a lawyer in both a private public interest-oriented practice and at the Legal Aid Society. John is an administrator with the American Ballet Theatre.

Although Danny and John have executed living wills and health care proxies, they worry about whether a hospital would honor these agreements and treat them the same as a married couple if one of them were to become ill. They're also concerned that they will not be able to exercise control over such intensely personal matters as funeral and burial decisions.

Cindy Bink and Ann Pachner

Cindy, 46, and Ann, 60, have been a couple for 17 years and live together in West Hurley. Cindy is an administrator at the City College of New York. Ann is a magazine consultant and sculptor.

Ann had to pay for her own health insurance, since her work didn't provide it. As Ann and Cindy have gotten older, they've become more and more concerned about the precarious nature of Ann's health coverage. Eventually, Cindy left her job as a counselor at a community college in New Jersey, where she had worked for 17 years, because the college did not offer domestic partner benefits. She was forced to search for a job that would allow her to cover Ann on her health insurance policy. Ultimately, Cindy found a job working for the City of New York, which offered health care for both her and Ann.

Cindy and Ann are very concerned about what would happen if either of them dies. They want to be acknowledged legally by society, and especially seek to be able to share public services like Social Security and health benefits.

Regina Cicchetti and Susan Zimmer

Regina, 58, and Susan, 59, live in Port Jervis and recently celebrated their 35th anniversary. They met over 40 years ago when they were both in college, but were just close friends and penpals until they fell in love six years later. Although they're retired now, Regina and Susan both used to be state employees, working with mentally ill and developmentally disabled people.

Regina has survived two life-threatening illnesses - breast cancer in 1996, and a pituitary tumor in 2002. She says that she could never have made it through these crises without the support of Susan and both their families. Regina and Susan want the security of knowing no questions will be asked about their relationship should one of them be hospitalized in the future.

Alice Muniz and Oneida Garcia

Alice, 32, and Oneida, 35, live in Brooklyn and have been together for four years. Alice is a New York City police officer. They have two children - Alice's son, who is 13, and Oneida's daughter, who is 15. Alice's son lives with them, and Oneida's daughter lives with them part time and her father part time.

They rent together but are looking to buy a house. They've been registered as domestic partners for almost three years. Oneida receives domestic partner health insurance through Alice's job, and her daughter is covered by both Alice's and her ex-husband's insurance.

A couple of years ago, Alice switched from working nights to days so that she could spend more time with Oneida and the children, even though days pay much less. She says the drop in income has been difficult at times, but that after 9/11 she realized that her family is the most important thing in her life.

Chelsea Dreher and Laura Collins

Chelsea, 69, is retired, and Laura, 61, is a physical therapist. They live in New York City and have been together for over 30 years. The couple met in the early 1970's; Chelsea had made a feminist pamphlet and met Laura at the printer's office.

Chelsea and Laura are domestic partners. Laura does not work for the City, and therefore can't include Chelsea on her health insurance plan. Their apartment is leased in Chelsea's name, and they are concerned that if anything were to happen to Chelsea, Laura would have a legal fight to keep their home. They are also concerned that as they get more advanced in age they could be denied rights should one of them be hospitalized.

John Wessell and Billy O'Connor

John, 63, and Billy, 47, live together in New York City and last year celebrated their 25th anniversary. In 1985, John and Billy opened a business selling paintings. After 18 years in business together, they cut back on their work hours in 2002 to spend more time together as they grow older.

All of their property, including their home, is jointly owned. John and Billy have made provisions for each other in their wills, but they worry that because they are not married they will have to pay substantially higher inheritance taxes than they would if they were married. The couple is also concerned that as they age, they may run into difficulties with medical decision-making. John's family is not located in the area, and John would like for Billy to make decisions about his medical care.

Sign up to be the first to hear about how to take action.