“As I was preparing for the bar exam, I was memorizing Georgia’s ‘laws of intestacy.’ Those laws say who your legal heirs will be if you die without a will. In a state where the constitution prohibits any union between persons of the same sex, obviously LGBT relationships are left out of that equation,” Seely says.
He notes that while Georgia has several groups working to improve our laws, he wondered, “what do we do to protect relationships in our community now?
Seely founded Georgia Benefits Counsel in January 2010 to help facilitate legal documents for gay and lesbian couples. GBC just received federal 501(c)3 non-profit status and is spreading the word and helping couples in the state.
“I want Georgia Benefits Counsel to help provide a safety net for persons in same-sex relationships who might not live to see relationship equality in Georgia and who may not need to have a complex estate plan,” he says.
“I don’t think same-sex couples should have to pay for basic protections that opposite-sex couples get for the price of a marriage license,” Seely continues. “So, at Georgia Benefits Counsel, we want to facilitate the provision of these legal documents for free.”
The nonprofit educates couples about wills, financial powers of attorney and advance directives for healthcare and links them with attorneys who will provide the documents without charge.
“We have provided documents for several couples now, mostly in the Athens area. The day a couple signs their papers feels like something of a happy ceremony for everyone present,” says David Rutland, secretary and a founding board member of GBC. “One gay couple had been together 46 years when they came to us.”
Though the basic legal documents can’t come close to the protections couples receive with marriage, signing them can mark a significant moment in a same-sex couple’s relationship, Rutland says.
“Some couples have mentioned feeling like their relationship had been formalized or solemnized once they had their wills and powers of attorney,” he says.
Georgia Benefits Counsel now needs help with referrals of interested couples, and donations are always welcome.
“We are also always looking for places willing to host us because we don’t have office space yet. Also, we don’t anticipate having office spaces all over Georgia, so we rely on other community organizations to let us use their space to help their constituents,” Seely says.
Georgia Benefits Counsel has a booth at Atlanta Pride, and also participated in Augusta Pride, Savannah Pride, South Georgia Pride in Valdosta, and Athens Pride. Seely also reported on the latter three Prides as a freelancer for Georgia Voice.
“I hope we can continue to travel around the state, working with existing organizations that have same-sex couples as members,” he says.