ACLU Urges Social Security Administration to Grant Survivor Benefits to Son of Lesbian

October 15, 2003 12:00 am

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Case Highlights Bush Administration’s Disregard for Same-Sex Relationships

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Camille Caracappa

Camile Caracappa, left, and Eva Kadrey with Nicolaj in an undated photograph. Ms. Caracappa died in 2000.NEW YORK — In a case that underscores the need for basic protections for lesbian and gay families, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Social Security Administration to provide survivor benefits to the child of a lesbian mother.

“While President Bush and the religious right are celebrating so-called ‘Marriage Protection Week,’ a five-year-old boy is being denied the financial support that his mother worked hard to provide because our laws don’t respect same-sex relationships,” said Ken Choe, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project. “As this case so clearly shows, lesbian and gay families, just like straight families, need legal protections to get through difficult times.”

As described in ACLU legal papers, early in their seven-year relationship together, Eva Kadrey and Camille Caracappa talked about having a child. Camille was the principal breadwinner in the family, so they decided that Eva would carry their child. In March 1998, Eva gave birth to Nicolaj Sikes Caracappa. Camille continued to work full time as a freelance oncology nurse while Eva stayed at home with Nicolaj and helped out part time keeping the books for Camille’s business. Shortly after Nicolaj was born, Camille made plans to adopt him and even contacted a lawyer to start the process. Camille died suddenly of an undiagnosed brain aneurysm at 38, before the paperwork for Nicolaj’s adoption was completed.

At the urging of Camille’s mother, Eva filed for Social Security survivorship benefits for Nicolaj in November 2000. Less than a month later, the Social Security Administration denied Nicolaj’s claim because Camille and Eva weren’t married and because Camille wasn’t Nicolaj’s biological mother.

The case is now up for review by an administrative law judge in Voorhees, New Jersey. If the couple had been allowed to marry, Nicolaj would be entitled to Camille’s benefits. The Administration even allows the children of stepparents to receive survivor benefits, the ACLU noted.

“It wasn’t until Camille’s death that I realized how differently married couples are treated by our government. We are lucky because Camille’s parents have always accepted me as family and they helped Nicolaj and me get back on our feet,” said Eva. “But it’s not easy being a single parent. Camille paid into the Social Security system just like everyone else, and now she’s being treated like a stranger to her son. It’s just not right that Nicolaj should loose the benefits she paid for because our government ignores same-sex families.”

“My daughter had such hopes and dreams for Nicolaj’s future,” said Theresa Caracappa, Camille’s mother. “While these survivor benefits could never replace his mother’s love, they would at least help make some of her dreams for Nicolaj a reality.”

Because Camille’s and Eva’s relationship is not recognized, Nicolaj is forced to rely on legal arguments that children of straight parents would not have to bother with. In the brief to the administrative law judge, the ACLU pointed out that under New Jersey law, Nicolaj is Camille’s heir, even though his two mothers were not married. The New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized that people with no biological or formal adoptive tie to a child, but who have functioned as a parent, should be treated as a parent for all purposes, which would entitle Nicolaj to inherit from Camille.

“This case illustrates just one of the many ways in which same-sex couples are hurt by our government’s refusal to respect their relationships,” Choe added. “People are still being barred from partners’ hospital rooms, shut out of emergency medical decisions about their partners’ health care and left with nothing when their partners die.”

The ACLU has launched a web-based public education campaign, www.aclu.org/getequal, to encourage the LGBT community to work for equality. The website includes a number of tools that LGBT people can use to protect their relationships, ranging from a one-click action alert urging Congress to oppose the federal marriage amendment, to detailed instructions on how to encourage town and employers to adopt domestic partnerships policies, to information about the legal documents couples can use to protect their relationships.

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