Gay Veteran Stricken With Cancer Pleads With Arizona Judge to Recognize His Marriage

A same-sex couple from Arizona asked a federal judge to recognize their marriage because one is dying of cancer and wants to leave his spouse his military veteran's benefits.

George Martinez and Fred McQuire, who have been together for 45 years, were married in July in California, a month after Martinez, 62, was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and told he only has months left to live. They met in Arizona in 1969 when McQuire was serving in the Air Force, and became a couple a year later.

McQuire, 69, has chronic pulmonary disease and Parkinson's disease, but "gives George his shots, helps him shower, does all the grocery shopping, gives George medications, makes the bed, takes him to doctors and chemotherapy appointments, and runs all of their errands," the motion for preliminary injunction states.

Their attorneys at Los Angeles-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund claim Arizona's ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

"These two lovely men, both of them in poor health, which makes travel difficult, were forced to make an arduous journey to California to get married because of Arizona's discriminatory marriage ban," Lambda legal senior counsel Jennifer Pizer said in a statement. "But they endured because they know their time together is short, only to return home where their marriage is not recognized."

Arizona banned same-sex marriage in 1996, and a voter-approved initiative in 2008 amended Arizona's constitution to include the ban.

The men say in their August 20 request for an injunction that Martinez, a Vietnam vet, is ineligible for increased veteran's disability compensation through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because his marriage to McQuire, also a military veteran, is not recognized under Arizona law. If the same-sex ban stands, Martinez will be prevented from receiving veteran's disability compensation typically available to spouses, and Arizona will refuse to issue a death certificate to McQuire, making it difficult for him to get survivor's benefits.

Without the ban, "George would be eligible to receive a higher amount of veterans disability benefit if his marriage was recognized by the state because, under the federal statute that governs veterans benefits, a marriage is considered valid if it is 'valid... according to the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of the marriage or the law of the place where the parties resided when the right to benefits accrued,'" the motion states.

"Because of George's dire health situation and Fred's vulnerable position, they cannot wait for this litigation to run its course—with potential appeals and stays due to other marriage cases—before a final and permanent affirmation of the constitutional rights of all plaintiffs in this case," according to the motion.

The couple also fear what could happen if Martinez is hospitalized for his cancer.

"On prior occasions, George was prevented by staff in Arizona hospitals from being with Fred because the staff did not consider George to be a legally recognized family member to Fred," the motion states.

"All we're asking is that Arizona respect that marriage, respect the life we've built together for almost half a century, and allow us to spend these last months together in peace and love," Martinez said in a statement. 

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