- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

A judge has ruled that the surviving partner of a homosexual civil union in Vermont can file a wrongful-death lawsuit as a “spouse” against a New York hospital where his companion died.The decision by Justice John P. Dunne of the state Supreme Court in Nassau County, N.Y., is believed to be the first in the nation where a judge outside Vermont has found that same-sex couples joined in civil ceremonies in that New England state should be treated as spouses elsewhere.”This is a tremendous step forward for gay and lesbian couples,” Michael Adams, a lawyer and spokesman for Lambda Legal Defense, said yesterday in a telephone interview. Lambda, which defends the civil rights of homosexuals, represented the plaintiff in this case.While supporting the surviving partner’s right to file a wrongful-death lawsuit, Justice Dunne said he was not deciding “whether [the] plaintiff has a valid marriage in the state of New York for all purposes.”He wrote that while “unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples are treated equally under the wrongful-death statutes in New York, a common-law marriage may be established for an unmarried heterosexual couple under the jurisdiction of a sister state and the survivor becomes a spouse.”Unless overturned on appeal, Justice Dunne’s opinion will permit John Langan, 41, of Massapequa Park, N.Y., to seek damages against St. Vincent Medical Centers in Manhattan for the Feb. 12, 2002, death of his partner, Neal C. Spicehandler, 41.Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of Concerned Women for America, expressed outrage at the ruling.”This judge is making law, not interpreting it. Nothing in New York’s law legalizes such a union. He’s imposing his personal preference. This is legal anarchy,” Mr. Knight said.Mr. Spicehandler was taken to St. Vincent after being injured by a hit-and-run driver, who struck 26 persons during a two-day period. Mr. Spicehandler died three days later.”Complications from surgery led to his death,” Mr. Adams said.According to Justice Dunne’s 25-page ruling, Mr. Spicehandler was “taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital with a broken leg and underwent two surgeries. He died while in the hospital from a blood clot of unknown origin.”Mr. Langan and Mr. Spicehandler had lived together 15 years before they were united in a civil union in Vermont in November 2000. Vermont is the only state that recognizes homosexual unions and it grants partners the same rights as spouses in marriage.In his ruling, Justice Dunne held that the 3-year-old Vermont statute “legally sanctioned homosexual unions in the same manner as a marriage.”“The civil union required the same solemnization as a marriage and created spouses for all purposes under Vermont state law,” the judge added.He noted that a justice of the peace presided over the Langan-Spicehandler civil union. “Their vows included taking each other to ‘be my spouse.’ They exchanged wedding bands, they planned to adopt children, and … purchased a house” on Long Island, the justice wrote.But within hours of the closing on the house, Mr. Spicehandler was hit by a car, Justice Dunne said.After Mr. Spicehandler’s death, Mr. Langan sued St. Vincent Medical Centers as his surviving spouse. Mr. Spicehandler’s mother, Ruth, also joined in the lawsuit, which charged that the medical treatment Mr. Spicehandler received was reckless and negligent.Mr. Adams said he does not know how much in damages the plaintiffs are seeking. “It’s not specified in the complaint,” he said.It’s not known whether the hospital will appeal Justice Dunne’s ruling.”Because of patient privacy and the ongoing litigation, we don’t provide any comments,” hospital spokesman Michael Fagan said yesterday.The hospital had argued that the Spicehandler-Langan same-sex civil union did not make them legal spouses for purposes of the lawsuit.


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