Justice for Patrick Atkins and his partner Brett Conrad

Dateline: Fri 01 Feb 2008

In a case with continuing implications for gay couples around the nation, the Indiana Supreme Court on Jan. 17 let stand an earlier Indiana Court of Appeals ruling allowing a gay man to continue to receive visits with his ailing partner of 25 years, despite strenuous parental objections.

The decision to not get involved and not overturn the earlier ruling is being hailed as a small but significant victory by friends and supporters of Brett Conrad, who made his life with Patrick Atkins until the latter suffered an aneurysm and a stoke in 2005. The debilitating illness placed Atkins legally in the hands of his parents, Jeanne and Thomas Atkins of Carmel. They are their son's guardians, even tho Patrick and Brett, who met in 1978 and fell in love as students at Wabash College, had built their lives around each other, sharing a home and finances.

The real tragedy in this saga is the refusal by the elder Atkinses to accept their grown son's lifestyle and his choice of partner. Those close to the case say the Atkinses are even controlling who can speak on the phone to their son, who now lives at home and remains under his parents' care.

Jeanne Atkins, the founder of Atkins Elegant Desserts and Cheesecakes, in the past has stated in court documents that she considers homosexuality a sin. She is described as a "devout Catholic" who led prayer sessions at the workplace for employees (this, thanks to an article in the Star highlighting her religiosity). Her son, Patrick, was CEO of the successful family business.

The court pretty much nailed the sadness of this drama in its initial ruling with these words:

"We are confronted here with the heartbreaking fracture of a family. Brett and Patrick have spent 25 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 tragic medical condition and by the Atkinses' unwillingness to accept their son's lifestyle."

This injustice is compounded by the drain on Brett Conrad's finances regarding legal expenses. Friends have created a website, http://www.justiceforpat.com/ in an effort to continue to raise awareness and funds.

There are many lessons to be learned here, including: gay couples in Indiana, who are not permitted to marry in-state or whose marriages elsewhere are not recognized, must protect themselves legally in the event of a medical emergency with advance directives and guardianships.

But the greater lesson, it seems, is that our work is cut out for us in advocating for love of neighbor. That's a pure Bible message, straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ. Yet, sadly, many people choose self-will, hatred and twisting of Christ's example instead...odd, since Jesus himself was the biggest friend to so-called outsiders -- the prostitutes, adulterers, tax collectors and other sinners of his day. He did not, however, seem to have much patience with the prideful Pharisees, who prayed so loudly in the front pew in temple and beat their breasts.

No matter what the Atkins' opinions may be, one has to wonder how they can close the door on a man beloved by their ailing son? Where is the gain or mercy in that?

Thanks to the Indiana Law Blog which broke the latest ruling on Jan. 18 and for friends of the couple who continue to monitor the case. I expect we will be reading more in the future, as many eyes are on Indiana on behalf of Brett and Patrick.

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