Now, as lifelong partners facing the financial and emotional insecurities of old age, they have legally changed their relationship and are father and son — John, 65 [right], has adopted Gregory, 73.
The couple was worried about Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax.
“If we just live together and Gregory willed me his assets and property and anything else, I would be liable for a 15 percent tax on the value of the estate,” said John. “By adoption, that decreases to 4 percent. It’s a huge difference.”
Because John’s dad is still alive at 95, he could not legally have two fathers. So Gregory, though older, became the adopted son. The Daughin County Court judge who signed their papers was adamant in telling them that the adoption was “forever” and they would never be able to legally marry.
Though the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, ensuring inheritance tax breaks and over 1,000 other rights to same-sex couples, the ruling only applies to states in which same-sex marriage is legal. Pennsylvania is one of the 37 states to not yet embrace marriage equality. John and Gregory had considered marrying in another state, but since Pennsylvania was their primary residence, they still would have been subject to its inheritance laws.
Janson Wu, a lawyer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said he’d seen “a few cases” of gay couples resorting to adoption, but noted that “is it really more of a relic at a time when same-sex couples had no other means to protect their families.”
Gregory has been retired for the past 10 years while John, head of an HIV/AIDS program in the state health department for 25 years, is semi-retired. After their lawyer filed all the necessary paperwork, the couple had a quick 15-minute court hearing. When the judge asked them the reason for the adoption, John said it was the “only legal option to protect ourselves from Pennsylvania’s inheritance taxes.”
He said the judge “got it immediately” and signed the adoption papers on the spot. Handing the papers to the clerk, the judge turned and looked at John and said, “Congratulations, it’s a boy.” All jokes aside, John and Gregory still managed to find something to laugh about in their otherwise serious and unfortunate situation.
“It’s humorous to me,” he said. “Gregory was a high school and college jock. Today, I am making dough for blueberry crostata and he is golfing. You’re going to think of him as the dad, rather than me. … But it provided us with some level of comfort that we have protected each other as much as we can.”
Photo: Courtesy of the family/ABC News