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Popular Topics in Social Sciences
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More Condolences in Indiana
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/20/11
Last updated on: 08/21/11
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In addition to Christina Santiago, whose death has been widely reported in the gay press because she was an official with Chicago's Howard Brown Health Center, another lesbian, Tammy VanDam, was killed in the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair on August 13, 2011.

VanDam and her partner, Beth Urschel, had first-row seats for the Sugarland concert that was about to begin when the stage collapsed on them, killing VanDam and seriously injuring Urschel.

The couple, who had been together more than a decade, are not recognized as partners in Indiana, which prohibits the recognition of same-sex relationships. This failure of recognition is likely to be a factor in the wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Urschel and VanDam's daughter by Valparaiso, Indiana attorney Kenneth Allen. Allen has indicated that he intends to challenge the Indiana policy that renders same-sex couples strangers before the law.

In 2001, another tragedy led to a change in law in California similar to the change Beth Urschel is seeking in Indiana. When soccer coach Diane Whipple was mauled by dogs, her surviving partner Sharon Smith, supported by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, sued to establish the right of same-sex couples in California to sue for wrongful death.

In the Whipple case, a California judge ruled that "reading the wrongful death statute to exclude plaintiff would unduly punish her for her sexual orientation. Such a reading has no place in our system of government, which has as one of its basic tenets equal protection for all."

One hopes that out of the Indiana tragedy comes at the very least a recognition of the right of a surviving partner to sue for wrongful death.

We extend condolences to Beth Urschel and to the daughter of Tammy VanDam.

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