FAMILY LIFE: Glossary of legal terms

Attorney Rebecca Covell says that to secure the same rights a legally married couple gets with a marriage license, there are six documents same-sex couples need: a medical power of attorney, a statutory durable power of attorney, a declaration of guardianship, a directive to physicians, an appointment of agent to control disposition of remains and a will.

Here are a few basic definitions of those documents, according to Covell:

• Medical power of attorney: This document allows a person to designate an individual who will have the authority to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unconscious, mentally incompetent or otherwise unable to make such decisions.

• Declaration of Guardianship: This designates who gets control over the future guardianship of a couple’s children.

• Statutory durable power of attorney: This documents allows a person to give their partner permission to make business decisions in the event that they are incapable, including decisions on buying or selling property, paying bills, handling insurance and dealing with the IRS.

• Directive to physicians: This document allows a person with a terminal illness or other irreversible medical condition to detail their wishes on end-of-life care.

Appointment of agent to control disposition of remains: Legally, after death, a person’s body belongs to their legally recognized next of kin. This document allows a person to designate the person who they want to make funeral or memorial arrangements and decisions about the care of their body.

• Will: When a person dies without a will, all their property and possessions automatically go to their legal next of kin. With a will, an individual can designate their beneficiary, who is in charge of their estate, make special for provisions for surviving children or a survivor with special needs. A will also allows an individual to designate when specific people will receive specific assets.

Attorneys Christopher Farish and Julie Quaid say that it is imperative that same-sex couples prepare for the future in terms of their finances. In addition to having a will, it is also important for those in same-sex relationships to list their partner as a beneficiary in 401K, IRA and pension if an employer allows same-sex partners to be eligible for spousal benefits.

Make sure to check with company policies on these matters, in advance, the attorneys said.

Here are a few basic definitions of these documents, according to Farish and Quaid:

• 401K: This allows an employee to place money in an account for retirement. The employee can name the beneficiary with 401K plans, regardless of sex or marital status.

• IRA: An IRA, or individual retirement account, is money set aside that has already been taxed. These plans are designed for people who don’t have access to a 401K plan and so are less structured than a 401K. Whereas a 401K plan is provided by a person’s employer, an IRA is something indviduals own. An individual can designate their same-sex partner as the beneficiary of their IRA.

• Pensions: Pensions are regulated, and most of those are available only to a person’s legal surviving spouse. Pension plans, however, are specific to individual companies, and policies are not consistent from one employers to the next. Employers’ pension plan regulations may say specifically say “spouse,” and some may have policies that exclude a same-sex partner as a beneficiary because Texas has a constitutional amendment prohibiting legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

— Draconis von Trapp

—  John Wright

Tips for gay couples as tax time approaches

Tax laws weren’t written with LGBT families in mind, but there are ways to make them work for you

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

A new tax ruling in California that appears to be a first step toward federal recognition of same-sex marriage will actually cost gay and lesbian couples there more money, according to Jon Chester of Sterling Bookkeeping and Tax Service.

In that ruling, the IRS said that registered domestic partners in that state must file as married filing separately.

“Married filing separately is the worst way to file a return,” Chester said. “We’re going to recognize you, but we’re going to have you file in the worst way a married couple can file.”

Ron Allen

Married filing jointly, he said, usually saves the most money and that filing is something same-sex couples cannot do on their federal taxes.

The so-called marriage penalty has been eliminated because a married couple gets to deduct twice the amount of a single person.

“But married tax brackets are much wider and save,” he said, so married couples filing jointly enjoy a tax advantage.

Chester had some other tips for same-sex couples in filing their returns.

He said that to take anything other than a standard deduction of $5,400, you must itemize.

Those deductions include property tax, charitable donations and medical expenses.

Chester said that if you support someone, you could take a deduction for that person.

Married couples who are recognized by the federal government regularly take deductions for dependents. He said gay people often do not think of that.

The person might be a child or a domestic partner. Chester suggested deducting for a parent that you support, even if that person doesn’t live with you. A parent in assisted living whose monthly bills you pay, for example, qualifies as a dependent.

He said it’s usually better for the partner making less money to claim any investment income and for the partner making more money to take any losses. The amounts can also be allocated proportionally, as long as no more than the total is claimed between the couple.

Jon Chester

Ron Allen, a CPA who used to work for the Internal Revenue Service, said that when a same-sex couple is sharing ownership and deductions on property, do three things to make the tax return audit-proof. Make sure both names are on the deed and on the mortgage and make payments from a joint account.

He said that for an account to be considered joint for tax purposes, both partners should make deposits into the account during the year. He suggested that even couples that kept their finances separate should make common household payments from a joint account.

Allen said that tax laws were not written with same-sex families in mind, but we must fit the laws to work for our families.

For instance, Allen asked, who deducts a dependent child when Texas doesn’t recognize a second parent adoption? He said that he has seen a number of cases where the adoptive parent stays at home and the non-adoptive parent earns most of the household income.

The non-adoptive parent may take deductions for the partner and child but will bear an extra burden of proof that married couples don’t need.

Allen said that when he went into business, he saw same-sex couples that used his practice because it was a safe place to reveal their relationship status. Now, he said, many of his clients come to him because tax preparers outside the community don’t know what to do with same-sex families.

Allen said that CPAs now are included in confidentiality rules. If one partner brings him tax returns for both members of the couple, he legally cannot answer any questions about the partner’s returns unless he has a power of attorney or a signed document.

“It’s just another case of us having to do something special,” he said. “A husband and wife don’t have to do these things.”

Couples dealing with issues of joint home ownership or other joint assets, adoption and disability and dependency issues should see a CPA who is experienced in handling these issues for the LGBT community, Allen said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Movie review: ‘Blue Valentine’

Although Blue Valentine is about the disintegration of a straight couple’s marriage, the themes, scenes and emotions it deals with could be out of any relationship: The awkward silences, the cold touches, the largely unspoken anger, the rebuffed affection, the meaningless disagreements. There are moments of tenderness, but they are made all the sadder because we see them in flashback. It’s over for these two.

I’ve been in this kind of relationship. I’m sure most people have. And it’s not pretty.

Sound like a happy film? Yeah, it’s not. But it is very real.

It’s also the kind of film that invites “process” reviews — that is, stories about the making of the film itself and its style: the hand-held camera and improvised dialogue resulting from weeks of off-set rehearsal with stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (Heath Ledger’s widow), who lived together as a married couple for weeks to get into the skins of the characters. That accounts for the realism — authenticity trumps contrivance, character supersedes plot.

You can’t call that a bad thing, but it can be difficult to watch. Cindy (Williams) and Dean (Gosling) are a young couple with a sweet 5-year-old daughter, but their marriage is failing. In fact, by the time the movie begins, it’s basically over. Both from working-class backgrounds — Dean is a housepainter and mover, Cindy is a nurse — but Cindy seems to feel trapped by Dean’s lack of ambition. She likes his goofy charm, his grand acts of romanticism, but she doesn’t seem challenged by him. “I thought the whole point of coming here was to have a night without kids,” she snipes when he takes her to a fantasy motel and begins making animal noises. Ouch.

Director Derek Cianfrance approximates John Cassavetes’ patented way of creating pained realism not from meaningful dialogue or fancy camerawork, but by intense observation of small moments between people. He hops between the beginnings of their courtship and the dissolve with only subtle visual cues. He also allows Gosling and Williams to sparkle in their roles. Both are likely Oscar contenders, so intense and measured are their performances.

Blue Valentine isn’t the best date movie, but it is, in some ways, an ideal break-up movie, one that makes you feel you’re not alone in that pain.

Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre in the West Village. Rated R (after an original NC-17 rating for explicit sex). 118 mins.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gay Brazilian married in U.S. may face deportation

RUSSELL CONTRERAS | Associated Press

BOSTON — A Brazilian man who was recently reunited with his Massachusetts husband when federal officials temporarily allowed him into the U.S. said he could face deportation because the attorney general won’t reverse the immigration ruling that initially separated the couple.

Genesio Oliveira, 31, said Monday, Nov. 8 that he could be forced to return to Brazil in six months because of Eric Holder’s decision.

“I was very depressed,” Oliveira said in a telephone interview. “I’m terrified. I thought this would be over by now.”

Three years ago, Oliveira and husband Tim Coco, 49, of Haverhill, were forced to live apart when Oliveira was denied asylum over claims he was raped as a teenager. A judge found Oliveira’s fear of returning to Brazil “genuine,” but ruled he was never physically harmed by the rape.

The Associated Press does not typically name rape victims, but Oliveira speaks openly about his case and allows his name to be used.

The case gained international attention from gay rights and immigrant advocates who criticized U.S. officials for separating a legally married couple.

In June, at U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s urging, federal officials temporarily allowed Oliveira back in the country on humanitarian grounds.

Following his return to Massachusetts, Oliveira said the couple believed Holder would reverse the initial immigration decision. Oliveira, whose nickname is “Junior,” said that would have allowed him to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. either on the basis of his marriage or as an asylum-seeker who feels threatened by anti-gay violence in his country.

Although Brazil is one of Latin America’s most tolerant countries toward gays, a number of Brazilian gays have persuaded U.S. judges to grant them asylum on the grounds they would face persecution if sent home.

“I think (Holder) was never able to help us,” said Oliveira. “He has all the authority to help us and he doesn’t want to.”

The U.S. attorney general’s office did not immediately return e-mails and phone messages Monday.

Last year, Kerry asked Holder to grant Oliveira asylum on humanitarian grounds. Then in March, Kerry wrote Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano asking her to issue Oliveira “humanitarian parole” based on his fear of persecution in Brazil.

Humanitarian parole is used sparingly to temporarily allow someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the U.S. for a compelling emergency, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

A spokeswoman for Kerry said the senator was in Beirut and couldn’t immediately comment.

Coco said the couple is looking at all available options now, including trying to reapply for asylum, suing the federal government over the Defense of Marriage Act, or trying to convince lawmakers to pass a federal bill that would allow Oliveira to stay.

“But each one of those options come with risks,” said Coco. “Junior could be forced to go back.”

—  John Wright

Mything the mark

Puppets rule in ‘Mount Olympus,’ but the effect ends up wooden

Theatre TooJeffrey Schmidt | Theatre3Dallas.com

Puppets and theater don’t come to mind often, save for Avenue Q. That Broadway hit knew how to mix its Sesame Street-like puppets with a contemporary storyline.

Theatre Three’s world premiere of Bruce Coleman’s Tales of Mount Olympus tweaks the idea using puppetry to tell the classic stories of gods and monsters from Greek mythology. Coleman, who wrote, directed and designed Mount Olympus, exudes innovation. He mentioned that this show is a built of worldly components of theater. The Greek myths are narrated in American storytelling fashion with Hungarian black lights and Japanese Bunraku puppetry. If only as a whole, they all worked.

The show begins with more primitive puppets. Gaia, or Earth, was a large globe with her face painted on and rotated thanks to the actor in black. Her husband, Uranus, was an interestingly constructed creature made up of Christmas lights. Ultimately though, they came off as school craft projects. This remained the same for the following set of gods, Cronus and Rhea.

Two-dimensional pedestals with large heads depicted the married couple while actors from behind emoted with their hands. When Rhea gives birth, her babies are delivered by a magnificent puppet of of a bird in beautifully done Day-Glo feathers to Cronus who ate them for fear they would revolt and overthrow his power. There is some injected humor here as he burps after each devouring and the bird acts as a busybody telling everyone’s business, but there is nothing compelling here. Actors don’t voice the characters. Instead, they are pre-recorded and acted out. This is more of a disconnect than an effective too, but more on that later.

Before long, we are introduced to the glorious puppets of the gods. We see Aphrodite borne from her shell albeit not nude. Coleman initially planned for that bit of nudity, but construction became an issue. Hades, Poseidon, Hera and others are all brought out in striking puppet form. The faces are bold and can be seen clearly from each seat and two actors control most of the characters with one as the brain, and the other as the body.

Zeus however is part of the stage. His huge face is depicted on a wall with a moveable jaw like Big Tex. Understandably, it depicts his grandiose standing, but it’s also underwhelming. When he speaks, the bottom of his beard scrapes the floor and distracts from everything else.

Act 1 has been filled to the brim with more Greek stories before intermission. The tale of Aphrodite infidelity to Hephaestus by her affair with Ares and Persephone’s trip to the Underworld to become Hades’ wife all play out before the break and feel a little rushed.

The first half lacks any emotional punch and the visuals wear off quickly despite the detailed construction of the sets and puppets. Coleman did allow for humor so there are moments when a puppet is actually funny by way of a gesture or the shakes. When two gods give a high five in Act 2, it’s a priceless, hilarious moment.

Theater Three
Jeffrey Schmidt | Theatre3Dallas.com

Thankfully, this is where Olympus redeems itself somewhat. By telling the whole tale of Perseus and Andromeda (or for the cinematic-minded, Clash of the Titans), there is time to get invested into the characters as Perseus sets out to save Andromeda from the Kracken. The innovation explodes here. When Perseus meets Pegasus, the winged horse provides a gasp of wow and although Medusa isn’t as threatening as she needs to be, it is an inspired piece of work they created. I don’t want to give too much away — either in the Kracken’s appearance or Cerberus’ the three-headed dog — but there is some room for surprise in the show, even if they are small ones.

Act 2 may stick with you, but the show won’t. The play feels much more like a production intended for school-age children, which is hard to reconcile with Theatre Three’s usual professional standards. The recorded narration is also miscast, as the voices are never powerful enough. Zeus should ring through the stage, but instead sounds far from almighty-ness. Actors could have possibly voiced the characters with more depth and emotion but the choice to go with recorded narration takes away from the dramatics. I wanted so much more from this show, which I would have gotten if I was a whole lot younger.

Tales from Mount Olympus at Theatre Three (in the Theatre Too space), 2800 Routh St., Suite 168. Through Nov. 28. $20–$30.  214-871-3300. Theatre3Dallas. com.

—  Rich Lopez

In support of meaningless gay sex as it’s existed since Biblical times

Marriage equality got a big boost last week from Judge Vaughn Walker who threw out California’s Proposition 8 based on all evidence showing it was discriminatory and no evidence or witnesses offering any reason to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying — other than because they said so.

The next day, the Mexican Supreme Court handed down a decision upholding marriage equality in Mexico City by a decision of 8-2 Reports have come out today saying that the Supreme Court there has ruled that not only is Mexico City’s same-sex marriage law constitutional, but same-sex couples legally married in Mexico City have to be recognized as legally married throughout Mexico, even by those states that don’t allow gays to marry, according to CNN Mexico.

An unscientific Fox News poll shows (what Fox News poll really IS scientific?) showed more than 70 percent agree with the Judge Walker’s ruling.

So we have marriage in all three North American capitals, across Canada and in five U.S. states. Marriage in Argentina. Marriage being debated in Uruguay and civil unions proposed in Chile, Paraguay and Costa Rica. And you can hardly find a European country anymore that doesn’t treat gays, lesbians and straights equally.

The world is getting more and more difficult for those of us who believe in hot, sweaty, meaningless gay sex as it’s existed since Biblical times.

While I understand the right people have to get married, little has been said lately for those of us who don’t want to marry. Ever.

First there’s the wedding. I hate weddings — gay or straight. I always have. I avoid them like the plague.

Pretending to be happy for the couple. Shopping for the gifts — especially if they’ve registered someplace I’m boycotting. Dressing up in something other than my trademark sneakers. Weddings, to me, are torture.

Next there are those 1,000-plus benefits married couples get. There are also a few I’ve benefited from over the years that unmarried people enjoy.

A former partner and I bought a house in Dallas and a house on Cedar Creek Lake. He homesteaded the Dallas house. I homesteaded the Henderson County house. A married couple can only homestead one property but Texas didn’t recognize our relationship so this was completely legal. They can’t have it both ways.

As a homesteaded Henderson County resident, albeit only two days a week, I registered my car at the county courthouse in Athens for less than it would have cost in Dallas and as a bonus got lower insurance rates as well. (This was long before gay-friendly Progressive Insurance came along. That company happily calls my current domestic partner and me a couple — cheap ploy to get ALL of our business.)

For older Americans, social security benefits are often lower for couples than for singles. My father and his wife never got a civil marriage because their monthly pension check would have been lower as a couple than they received as singles.

But one of the biggest benefits is not taking on the debt of, or dividing the wealth with, your dead-beat ex-husband. A married couple, especially in a community property state, divides all wealth and all debts equally between spouses.

So in divorce number 13, I would have had to give up some of my stuff and gotten nothing from him. And in divorce number 17, I would have acquired half of his massive Neiman Marcus bill.

Marriage? No thank you. I’ll stick to uncommitted, meaningless relationships as they’ve existed since Biblical times. Maybe even longer. (And yes, therapy’s been recommended — by friends, co-workers and Candy Marcum.)

—  David Taffet

Google sets new standard for corporate equality

Sure, we’re worth it. But headlines make it sound like Google is simply compensating their gay and lesbian employees for being more fabulous.

Google announced it will offset a tax liability same-sex couples incur that opposite-sex couples do not, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

When a company offers domestic partnership benefits, those perks — such as health insurance for a partner — are taxable as income.

When I looked at the cost of going on my domestic partner’s health insurance, it would have been more expensive than buying a policy for myself as an individual. The domestic partner “benefit” amounted to an almost $200-per-month penalty.

Google is doing something about it. The company is paying the tax penalty incurred by gay and lesbian employees by increasing their compensation.

—  David Taffet