Same-Sex Families Can File Claims For Federal Victim Compensation Fund; But Success Remains Unclear

On December 20th, The Human Rights Campaign expressed satisfaction that
same-sex families can file claims with the federal Victim Compensation Fund,
but is concerned that lack of clarity in new regulations issued may leave
some same-sex families in limbo. With no explicit mention of same-sex
partners, it remains unclear what obstacles these survivors of victims of
the Sept.11 tragedy might face in receiving fair and equitable benefits,
says HRC.

"While it is a positive development that gay families can file
claims, we are concerned that the lack of specific guidelines covering
same-sex families will cause confusion and allow some families in need to
slip though the cracks and suffer unnecessary pain," said Elizabeth Birch,
HRC's executive director. "We strongly encourage the Bush administration,
through the authority of the Special Master who is administering the fund,
to do what is best for all families."
The administration today released federal guidelines on a compensation fund
that has been established to assist families affected by the recent tragedy
as part of the $15 billion federal airline assistance package. But the
survivors of same sex couples are not explicitly mentioned, leaving
eligibility for funds to the discretion of the Special Master, Ken Feinberg.

While HRC is cautiously optimistic that Feinberg will administer the
funds fairly, the lack of specific guidelines may put an unnecessary burden
on same sex survivors to prove they are the rightful recipient of funds.
Those partners who are named as beneficiaries in a will shall receive
federal assistance from the fund, but those who do not have a will or other
documentation could be frozen out, especially if challenged by aggrieved
biological family members of the deceased partner.

HRC is additionally concerned that the regulations' deference to
state law may result in situations where same-sex partners and
non-biological children are excluded from an award under the fund. In
almost all states, probate laws do not recognize same-sex partners or
non-biological children as beneficiaries if someone dies without a will.
"In this time of great suffering, our families, like any other, need relief
and not rejection," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. "This
clearly illustrates the inequities our families face and the need to work
toward laws that are inclusive of all families. We will continue to work
with the Bush administration and the Special Master to ensure that all of
the surviving domestic partners of victims are treated fairly by this fund."

HRC hopes the federal fund will be administered with compassion, much as
the state-level victim compensation funds have been in New York and
Pennsylvania. In New York, for example, Gov. George Pataki has issued an
Executive Order to ensure that surviving domestic partners will be treated
fairly by the state's Crime Victims Board. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Ridge
oversaw the creation of a state-level fund to assist victims of the
terrorist attacks before he left office to become director of the Office of
Homeland Security. Eligibility requirements for Pennsylvania's fund include
being the "significant other" of an individual who was injured or killed in
the terrorist attacks.

If any member of the LGBT community affected by the tragedies
encounters trouble receiving proper assistance, please contact the Human
Rights Campaign at 202-628-4160; Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund at
212-809-8585; Empire State Pride Agenda at 212-627-0305 or the New York
Anti-Violence Project at 212-714-1141.

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