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The Plain English Attorney

It’s not a time to panic, but it is time for members of the LGBT community to get their houses in order.

Unfortunately, the LGBTQ Community is bracing for the worst under the new Trump Administration, and so far things are troubling. While President Trump has stated that he will keep all of President Obama’s protections in place, at the time this is being written he is poised to sign a “Religious Freedom” executive order that will give anyone violating the LGBTQ protections the ability to just say “I object to treating LGBTQ individuals and couples equally or fairly because my religion says so.”

Not much protection, is it? But President Trump gets to technically say he never got rid of President Obama’s executive orders on the issue.

Can it get any worse? Oh, you betcha. The executive order is probably a prelude to a law that would nullify or create exemptions to federal and state laws that ban workplace and marketplace discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and couples. So, once again, anyone can use the excuse that their religion compels them to shun members of the LGBTQ community and, presto!, they are exempt from following the law and can refuse to provide service.

While many of these problems need to be addressed in protests, discussions with elected representatives, boycotts, and especially at the ballot box, some of the most frightening issues for LGBTQ individuals and couples relate to having their partner or trusted friends and family members being able to step in when they are most vulnerable and care for them. If you end up in a hospital, unconscious and unable to communicate your wishes, do you want your partner/spouse or estranged parents being able to make health decisions for you? Do you want family members you haven’t talked to in years excluding your partner or spouse from the room? Then these wishes need to be in the form of a Health Care Power of Attorney.

But wait a minute! Wasn’t marriage supposed to take care of that? If we have a religious exemption for discrimination against the LGBTQ community, what are the chances you’ll end up at a religiously affiliated hospital? One study estimates twenty-six percent (26%) of health care facilities in the U.S. are Catholic. That’s just the Catholic facilities. If they don’t want to recognize your legal marriage, then such a so-called religious freedom law could allow them to bypass the spouse making decisions and go right to parents or siblings or children, but not the spouse. But in order to bypass a spouse who is also your Health Care Power of Attorney agent means having to upend the entire system of appointing people in a legally-binding document to make decisions for you, and I haven’t seen any proposed language in any of the “religious freedom” laws that would bypass these legal documents.

In addition, if we go back to a time of relationship speculation at banks and other financial institutions, being able to step in and handle financial transactions for a spouse during a crisis will just be more difficult, but probably not as devastating as situations with health decisions. But it is always a good idea for committed couples to have reciprocal Financial Power of Attorney, even if you are married. And if you are unmarried LGBTQ partners, then it is critical.

The next four years will be turbulent for the LGBTQ community. Our society seems to be making advances in attitudes of tolerance and acceptance, but politically we are now headed in another direction. Regardless of how the community fights politically, LGBTQ individuals — and especially couples, married or unmarried — need to have the protection of at least the basic estate planning documents.

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