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A Minority Within a Minority

While some same-sex Hispanic couples enjoy new benefits, others fight for legal equality and acceptance

“We live in the West Village [in lower Manhattan], a gay-friendly, bohemian neighborhood,” Torres says, “but on any day, you have to be careful.” In fact, a gay man was assaulted in late March in the neighborhood, apparently a hate crime. Even so, the two men take joy in introducing each other as “my husband,” and are pleased with the benefits marriage now affords them. They can make medical decisions if the other is incapacitated, for example, file joint state tax returns, and inherit the other’s assets in absence of a will.

Before getting married, the couple lived in Florida, where each landed after leaving Cuba in the 1960s. Torres grew up in Hialeah and Rodriguez-Duarte in Miami. The state has been slow in granting some rights to gays and lesbians; it was the last of all 50 to drop prohibitions against the adoption of children by homosexuals.

In Florida, the two paid an attorney about $3,000 to draw up documents protecting them with many rights heterosexual couples take for granted. “We had to put each other’s name on everything from our lease to bank accounts,” says Rodriguez-Duarte, speaking specifically to rights of survivorship.

Those rights are especially important, they say, when a partner dies. Despite a gay couple being together and amassing assets for 20 years or more, a partner’s family can legally come and take away everything that belonged to the deceased.

Elizabeth F. Schwartz, 40, a Miami attorney whose practice is devoted to issues the gay and lesbian community face, did the legal work for Rodriguez-Duarte and Torres. Laws like that recently passed by New York make a substantial amount of the paperwork Schwartz did unnecessary, she says, but no legislation can eradicate homophobia.

“It obviates some paperwork but doesn’t make all of it obsolete,” she says, noting that she advises all couples, straight or gay, to establish power-of-attorney for a spouse or loved one, even if they live in states where same-sex unions are legal.

Schwartz, a lesbian committed to the passage of marriage equality legislation not just in Florida but on the federal level, says, “Some of my most satisfying work comes from toiling away in a state where so much more work needs to be done.”   

Next: Two cultures, more challenges. >>

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