Newsweek's 'Invisible' Elderly Gays Story Transparent Plug for Same-Sex Marriage

September 18th, 2008 2:26 PM

Newsweek screencap from Sept. 18, 2008 | NewsBusters.orgIf at first you don't succeed in making Americans open to same sex marriage by highlighting monogamous gay couples in their 20s and 30s, try to guilt them into it by finding elderly gay people who are all but "invisible and overlooked" in America.

That's essentially what Newsweek's Jessica Bennett did with her September 18 Web exclusive deadling with the "growing population of lesbian and gay senior citizens" who "[seek] recognition for their unique needs and challenges."

Bennett started off with a man whose complaint is virtually indistinguishable from countless single or widowed elderly men:

Bob McCoy is a youthful, active 78-year-old. He sings in his church choir, takes a weekly computer class, and regularly attends social gatherings organized by a gay senior citizens group in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lives. But McCoy worries about a day when he can no longer care for himself: he has no close family, no partner, and he's outlived most of his friends. "I'm used to having friends I can call up and say, 'Let's go to [a movie],'" he says. "But now there's nobody to call."

Paragraph two, however, introduced an elderly gay couple's complaints about, you guessed it, being unable to marry:

Newly engaged, Jim Fetterman, 62, and Ilde Gonzalez-Rivera, 56, look forward to growing old together at their home in Queens, N.Y., where they share a garden and a green Cadillac. But the couple isn't sure if or when they'll be able to marry. Their house is in Rivera's name, but because the couple can't legally wed in New York, Fetterman won't automatically inherit it, should his partner die. And even though they are registered domestic partners in New York City, neither man will have access to the other's Social Security, because the federal government doesn't recognize their relationship. "It's not something we like to think about, but there's a certain amount of anxiety that comes with not having those things," says Fetterman.

Later on Bennett went on to lament a lack of gay-oriented retirement communities, leaving the reader to wonder why the dearth of gay-oriented bingo nights is not also worthy of our outrage.

All the same, Bennett's focus on the woes of elderly gay couples helped to serve up for the reader, without any opposing voice, a push for same-sex marriage, or at the very least civil union laws:

Financial and estate-planning matters can complicate things further. In most cases, gay survivors don't have rights to a partner's pension plans, and are taxed on 401(k)s and IRAs they might inherit. Same-sex couples must also pay federal estate taxes on jointly owned homes where married couples don't. Sometimes they even have to fight with blood relatives over how to dispose of a partner's remains. To approximate some of the protections of marriage, many gay couples have to set up extra legal frameworks, such as powers or attorney and joint tenancy agreements. "Senior citizens have enough of a challenge just figuring out all the paperwork for health insurance-but gays and lesbians have this added layer," says attorney David Buckel, the director of the Marriage Project at the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a civil rights group. "It can be overwhelming."