Mary Walsh, 72, and her wife, Beverly Nance, 68, had spotted an old people's home they wanted to join. This facility allowed them to live decently while providing the care they need.
After their visit to Friendship Village, the couple received a letter from one of the administrators. It informed them that their request for sharing a single unit was not allowed by their policy. This one limits shared units to siblings, parents, and children, or spouses but “the term ‘marriage’ means the union of one man and one woman, as marriage is understood in the Bible.”
Walsh said: "We met other members of the community and they were very friendly. I felt good about it."
If one of them needed more care than the other, "we would always be able to have dinner together. We wanted to be together, no matter what happened," she explains before adding,"It's not right. They should not be able to do it."
Last month, the two women filed a complaint in a federal court alleging sex discrimination in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act and the Missouri Human Rights Act.
“It’s hard to think of a more clear-cut case of discrimination because of sex,” said Julie Wilensky, senior staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“One thing so troubling about this case, and this time is the argument that religious beliefs can justify discrimination,” said Michael Adams, chief executive of Sage, an advocacy group for LGBT seniors.
So you should know that Missouri's federal law doesn't protect LGBT people against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Nevertheless, the law prohibits discrimination based on sex now, if Mary or Beverly had been a man, the couple wouldn't have been denied housing.
As Adams points out, LGBT seniors can experience a lack of respect or a lack of recognition of their unions by staff in some old people's homes. They are even sometimes harassed by other residents. Sometimes, some LGBT people decide to go back in the closet because they're afraid.
The case of Mary Walsh and Beverly Nance is not unique, but if the couple wins, it could help define a better protection law, especially in fair housing.
They could also help protect LGBT people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Pending the verdict, know that there are communities with quality care and a pleasant environment for LGBT seniors throughout the United States. Visit sageusa.org, a resource for LGBT elders.
Photo by Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio