You can also read more about this case in today's Indy Star and on The Bilerico Project here, here and here.
"I want you all to know that Brett is my best friend in the whole world and I love him more than life itself. I beg all of you to reach out to him with the same love you have for me, he is extremely special and once you know him you will understand why I love him so much. Trust me, God loves us all so very much, and I know he approves of the love that Brett and I have shared for over 20 years." -- Letter of Patrick Atkins to his family, 2000
Patrick Atkins and Brett Conrad met in 1978 and remained together until fate and Patrick's family separated the life partners.
While on a business trip in 2005, Patrick suffered an aneurysm and then a stroke. Hospitalized in Atlanta, Georgia, Brett went to be with Patrick; however, to say that Brett's presence at the hospital was displeasing to Patrick's mother, Jeanne Atkins (as in Atkins Elegant Desserts and Atkins Cheesecake) is an understatement. According to the opinion issued by the Indiana Appellate Court:
Patrick's family, however, has steadfastly refused to accept their son's lifestyle. Jeanne believes that homosexuality is a grievous sin and that Brett and his relatives are "sinners" and are "evil" for accepting Brett and Patrick's relationship. She testified that no amount of evidence could convince her that Patrick and Brett were happy together or that they had a positive and beneficial relationship.
Patrick's brother testified that Brett's mere presence in the hospital was "hurting" Jeanne and offending her religions beliefs. Jeanne told Brett that if Patrick was going to return to his life with Brett after recovering from the stroke, she would prefer that he not recover at all.
As the family did not want to see Brett, Brett was reduced to visiting Patrick for only 15 minutes, after visiting hours had ended. A sign was posted at the ICU that limited Patrick's visitors to "immediate family and clergy only" but compassionate hospital staff continued to allow Brett to visit Patrick outside of regular visiting hours.
When Patrick was removed to a nursing home in Carmel, Indiana, Brett again was required to visit Patrick after regular visiting hours so as to avoid being seen by Patrick's family. Patrick was ultimately moved into his parents' home. Armed with complete control of the situation, the Atkins refused to allow Brett to visit Patrick and even refused to allow Brett to talk with Patrick on the telephone.
In June 2005, Brett filed an action in the Hamilton Superior Court, asking that he be appointed guardian of Patrick's person. At the trial, "the Atkinses acknowledged that it was 'probably true' that if the trial court did not order them to allow visitation between Patrick and Brett, they would not allow any contact between the life partners." Judge Stephen Nation ultimately appointed the Atkins as Patrick's guardians and denied Brett's request for visitation and telephonic contact with Patrick. On the issue of visitation, the Indiana Appellate Court reversed.
In addition to the issues regarding who would act as guardian of Patrick, there were also property issues. Judge Nation gave the right to maintain the jointly held home to the Atkins and also gave them the right to sell the home. An investment account and a checking account were both held only in the name of Patrick although both partners had contributed to the account. Judge Nation awarded Brett one-third of the checking account and none of the investment account. Finding no abuse of discretion by the trial court, the Indiana Appellate Court affirmed the decision.
The 2-1 decision by Chief Judge Baker and Judge Robb of the Indiana Appellate Court is compassionate and worth reading. As Chief Judge Baker observed:
We are confronted here with the heartbreaking facture of a family. Brett and Patrick have spent twenty-five years together as life partners - longer than Patrick lived at home with his parents - and their future life together has been destroyed by Patrick's medical condition and by the Atkinses' unwillingness to accept their son's lifestyle.
The guardian-ad-litem appointed to act on behalf of Patrick observed that it was "evident that Patrick loves Brett very much and it is evident that Brett loves Patrick." Unfortunately, in this instance, without legal rights, all the love in the world cannot make the outcome of this situation as it should have been, had Brett and Patrick had control of things.
Nothing can change the tragedy of a mother who would rather not see her son recover than for him to be gay. The selfishness of such "motherly" love - if it can be called love - is incomprehensible. If Patrick Atkins ever recovers to the point that he understands what his mother and father have done to Patrick and to his life partner Brett, then Jeanne Atkins had better pray that her son is capable of far more compassion than she has displayed towards her son and Brett.
In the meantime, until the state legislature consents to recognizing the establishment of legal rights between same sex partners, please encourage your same sex friends to protect themselves. Persons not granted the legal right to marry their life partner, must take other steps to ensure that they and their loved one are protected. If Patrick had executed a durable power of attorney that provided for Brett to be considered as guardian over Patrick's person, then the whole situation likely would have been avoided. The same document could have designated Brett as the person charged with making all health care decisions on behalf of Patrick while Patrick was hospitalized.
I also hope that you will share this story with your friends and encourage them to avoid purchasing Atkins' products. Also, don't forget to let your grocer and favorite restaurants know that you do not want to spend your dollars where Atkins' products are offered. Maybe a reduction in profits will help Jeanne Atkins learn a bit of compassion.