A Sebastopol woman who married her dying partner a week before the U.S. Supreme Court restored the right of California's same-sex couples to wed is poised to win legal recognition of their marriage even though it preceded the high court's landmark ruling.
Stacey Schuett had only one day to be a wife. She already was a widow by the time the California law prohibiting gay and lesbian marriages was struck down June 26.
But a tentative ruling issued Tuesday by Sonoma County Judge Nancy Case Shaffer means Schuett, 52, should soon have full rights as the "surviving spouse" of Lesly Taboada-Hall and as the widowed parent of their two kids. She should thus should be entitled to pension and Social Security benefits for which she would otherwise not be eligible.
"I actually feel giddy," Schuett said after hearing the news Tuesday. "It's going to be a great day."
The ruling, which should be formalized Wednesday morning, comes as the legal landscape continues to shift in favor of expanding rights for gay and lesbian couples around the country.
Several pending, high-profile cases in states where same-sex marriages are still banned involve issues similar to Schuett's and Taboada-Hall's, where the precarious health of one partner requires legal resolution sooner rather than later, advocates for equal marriage rights say.
A federal judge ruled last month that the state of Ohio must recognize the out-of-state marriage of two men, one of whom has Lou Gehrig's disease, if the event he dies before their full lawsuit can be adjudicated.
Elsewhere, a New Mexico judge declared state law banning same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses unconstitutionally discriminatory in response to a case raised by two women, one of whom has brain cancer, seeking permission to marry.
"These very urgent situations, I think people are becoming more aware of them, and I think they're playing a role in moving the issue of marriage forward in many other states, as well," said Christopher Stoll, senior staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.
But Schuett's case may be unique in bringing validation to a marriage retroactively, on the grounds it had been prohibited only because of a law that was unconstitutional.
"One of the things that we pointed out to the judge is this is a very unique set of facts," said Kinna Crocker, co-counsel for Schuett and Taboada-Hall.
"Love makes a family," said Stuart Gaffney, communications director for Marriage Equality USA, "but it's marriage that allows couples to protect each other — and their children — in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part. While we are sorry their marriage was only recognized in probate, it is the right decision as a matter of law, and as a matter of love."
Schuett and Taboada-Hall, 56, had been partners for 27 years and registered domestic partners since 2001 when Taboada-Hall died of cancer on June 20.
A gregarious woman with a sharp wit and an eye for stray pets and potential friendships, she was the family's primary breadwinner, working most of their life together and well into her illness as a courier and safety coordinator for FedEx.
Schuett, an artist and illustrator for children's books, is also building a small company with a partner. But she has spent much of her time in the role of stay-at-home mom with daughter Clare, 17, and son, Ian, 14, both Analy High School students.