About 20 lesbians and gay men whose partners were killed in the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center will receive spousal benefits from insurance companies under a New York state law that took effect Wednesday.
"I'm glad this law recognizes that Gene and I were a couple in every way--emotionally, financially, legally, and in our everyday lives," said Larry Courtney, whose partner of nearly 14 years, Eugene Clark, died September 11. "This is good for some of us, but we have to do more for all of us. People whose partners died in other tragedies on the job are still fighting with insurance companies for the basic benefits that were intended for families in our situation."
Bill Valentine, whose partner of 21 years, Joe Lopes, was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 587 when the plane crashed near Kennedy Airport on November 12, continues battling insurance companies, which are trying to deny him these spousal benefits. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed claims on behalf of both Courtney and Valentine with the New York State Workers' Compensation Board earlier this year--the first-ever cases brought by gay or lesbian partners seeking coverage as spouses under New York's Workers' Compensation Law. Because Courtney is covered by the new law, which includes same-sex domestic partners of those killed September 11 in the existing definition of spouse, his claim will be granted, while Valentine's claim is still pending.
"September 11 made people more aware of all the suffering that occurs if a loved one is torn from his or her partner's life, and that kind of suffering occurs under all sorts of tragic circumstances," said Adam Aronson, the Lambda staff attorney who has handled the Courtney and Valentine cases. "The safety net should be the same for all committed partners, gay or straight. Eugene Clark and Joe Lopes both died on the job. They paid the same taxes and insurance premiums as their coworkers, and it's only fair that their closest family members--their life partners--get support as spouses," Aronson said. "This law provides that for Gene's partner, and we'll keep fighting for Joe's partner."