Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Texas Man Fights To Get His Partner Of 34 Years Back

Jim Heath, (L) and Lon Watts
By Brody Levesque | STROUD, OK -- Jim Heath and Lon Watts shared 34 years together and instead of enjoying their golden years in retirement, they have been forcibly ripped apart, first by illness and then by family members. In the summer of 2011, an emergency trip to the hospital for Heath resulted in a family conflict that eventually left Watts without his partner, the home they had shared together, and even the ability to see Heath who is suffering from Early Onset Alzheimer's disease.
Speaking from his mother's home in Stroud, Oklahoma Wednesday, Watts told LGBTQ Nation in a phone interview that the problems stemmed from late in 2005, when he noticed that Heath looked lost, was frequently forgetful, and spoke about past events as though they had just occurred. In early 2006, Heath was diagnosed as suffering from Early Onset Alzheimer's disease, and Watts became his caregiver as well as partner. 
Because their native Texas passed a state constitutional amendment in November of 2005 banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, the couple was left without legal protections. However, Watts said that in 2004, they had legal power of attorney and wills drawn up as a means to have some limited legal protections.
On July 15, 2011, Watts called for an ambulance to transport Heath to hospital suffering from swelling and other medical problems. Heath's sister, Carolyn Heath Franks, accused Watts of neglect and had him removed from the hospital. According to Watts, when he returned the next day, nurses told him that he was trespassing and had hospital security remove him again. He was then served with a "No Trespass Order" and was barred from visiting Heath, and according to Watts, the Texas Adult Protective Services Agency also became involved. Later that month, Franks filed for and was awarded guardianship of her brother, Watts said, which had the effect of completely legally disenfranchising him from Heath.
After a hearing by a local judge and with input from the Texas Adult Protective Services Agency, Heath was removed from the couple's Pittsburg, Texas home and sent to a full time nursing home facility about three miles away. He said that at first he was allowed to visit Heath and then without warning he was served another "No Trespass Order" barring him from the home and any contact with his partner.
According to Watts, the couple, who first met in 1979 at the Metropolitan Community Church in Houston, had moved to Pittsburg, located about 115 miles east of Dallas, in 2000 as it was Heath's hometown and he wanted to be closer to family. Franks had purchased a home in the town for the couple with the understanding that they would be responsible for the mortgage, homeowner's expenses, and upkeep. Watts claimed that it was acknowledged that the men were a gay couple by family and friends, but as Watts told LGBTQ Nation; "We didn't fly a rainbow flag or call a lot of attention to ourselves."
Watts said that he didn't have problems with Franks until the hospital incident which then got uglier he said when after attending a church service in memory of September 11th. Franks, who also attended the same church and was an organist there stormed out of the services. Watts said that he was served with yet another "No Trespass Order," this time from the church barring him from attending services.
In October of 2011, he was served with an eviction notice from Franks that he contested but ultimately lost on Valentine's Day 2012. Shortly afterwards he moved back to his mother's home in Stroud. Watts said that not long after he returned to Stroud, he was arrested and charged with vandalism to his former residence although Franks later dropped the charges Memorial Day weekend 2012.
Alone and frustrated, Watts wasn't sure there was much he could do. When asked why, after nearly a year and a half after the situation happened, he has now come forward, Watts said that he felt that after reading the horror stories about other gay and lesbian couples who had experienced similar circumstances, and emboldened by the gaining public acceptance of same-sex marriage, he felt it was time to tell his story.
His goal he told LGBTQ Nation is to get Heath back, relocate him to Stroud, and spend what ever time they have left, together as a couple and not apart.
According to Watts, he published his story on a Facebook Page this past week and not long afterwards, Austin, Texas attorney Dax Garvin contacted him, and offered to help pro bono to see if any legal action could be taken to achieve his goal.
"We had a blessed life," he said, "I just want him home. He knows me, he loves me, there's no reason he should be there alone."


Desmond Rutherford said...

And there are still people out there like the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who seem to not understand why same sex marriage is so important an issue.

Trab said...

Often the problems come from family, usually family who have been estranged for years or even decades because they were unwilling or unable to accept that a family member is homosexual. What is needed is a way to divorce your family. If they can kick you to the curb, there should be a way to make it legally binding so they cannot later come back to destroy whatever you've been able to create for yourself.

Anonymous said...

At least in Australia De Facto partnership provides legal protection from this kind of thing. If they can't legalise homosexual marriage, can't every state at least have an equal alternative with a different name? Who cares what it's called as long as everybody's rights are the same. This story broke my heart.