Courting Justice: Gay Rights and Civil Justice

March 19, 2013

By Robert N. Hunn

There are two things that I hoped would end during my lifetime. The first is the conflict in the Middle East. The second is intolerance towards the rights of gays and lesbians. Maybe it’s me, but I just don’t get it. It makes no sense to me. Why can’t they marry? In fact, what is the big deal if they marry?

Remember the Rick Santorum rant: if gays are allowed to marry, then what will stop a person from marrying their pet? Boy, that‘s a tough one, Rick. Last time I checked, people don’t have a biological urge to be intimate with Pooky—their Bishon Shitzu. If that is the best argument that someone can make against gay marriages then we as humans haven’t evolved much from when we were chimpanzees. (Supporters of the theory of Intelligent Design are cursing my name about now.)

Unfortunately, there are certain legal principles that are also antiquated when it comes to gay and lesbian rights. I’m talking about a certain type of legal claim called loss of consortium. Let me explain.

When one spouse is injured, the other spouse has a claim against the wrongdoer called loss of consortium. The law recognizes that an injury to one spouse negatively affects the marital relationship. The injured spouse can no longer provide his or her better half with the same quality of comfort, companionship, services and intimacy. Consequently, when a lawsuit is filed, the non-injured spouse is also named as a plaintiff and seeks compensation for his or her loss of consortium.

Under current Pennsylvania Law, same sex couples are not permitted to pursue a claim for loss of consortium. The right to bring such a claim is only provided to married couples. It doesn’t matter how long the couple has been together, it doesn’t matter how strong the relationship is and it doesn’t matter if they share the same household responsibilities. The non-injured partner in a gay or lesbian relationship cannot bring a loss of consortium claim.

A recently filed lawsuit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas is seeking to change all that. In a case where a woman suffered a debilitating injury, her non-injured lesbian partner has filed a claim for loss of consortium. Kudos to trial attorney Gavin P. Lentz of Bochetto & Lentz for pursuing the case. I’m rooting for you.