For more than 30 years, Lon Watts said he shared his life and his love with partner, Jim Heath. But that life came crashing down in 2011 after Watts says Heath's sister successfully forced the pair apart, evicted him from the house and has prohibited him from visiting Heath in his new nursing home.
Now, Watts is speaking out about both the incident and the laws in Texas that refuse to recognize him as anything more than a good friend of a man he's loved for decades.
"It's just unbearable," Watts told The Huffington Post.
Watts first opened up about the struggle in a Facebook post that was picked up by group Gay Marriage USA:
My partner Jim (left) and I (Lon) shared 34 Years together!! The past 6 years he has suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. He was hospitalized last year. His estranged sister filed for guardianship of him and won. We gave each other Power of Attorney, which she never revealed in court as I was never mentioned nor considered nor notified.
If we were EQUAL in the eyes of the law we would be together till the end. But as it stands in Texas, a money hungry greedy relative was able to steal our life and toss me out as trash to pad her pocketbook. I pray God has mercy on her soul for her evil deeds. I am content knowing the world is coming around to acknowledge that ALL HUMANS ARE CREATED EQUAL and SHOULD HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS.
"I submitted the story just to share and to help others gain the legal knowledge," Watts told HuffPost.
According to Watts, the trouble began in July of 2011, when he called 911 because his partner, Heath, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago, seemed "swollen."
When Heath was finally admitted, his sister Carolyn Franks had Watts escorted out of the hospital, he said. A few weeks later, she filed for guardianship over Heath, a legal proceeding Watts said went on without his knowledge.
"I was never notified, never considered," Watts said. "There was no mention of me on the guardianship information."
Despite having power of attorney over Heath, Franks, an organist and music leader at the local Methodist church, convinced the court to give her guardianship. Arguing that Watts was neglectful, she put Heath in a nursing home and took possession of the couple's house, Watts said.
Franks did not respond to HuffPost's requests for comment.
Watts told HuffPost that any claims of negligence were "absolutely false." He said he was shocked to learn the court wasn't even interested in hearing his side of the story.
"I thought power of attorney and drawing up wills would protect us," Watts said. "But she just came in and decided she wanted it all."
Feeling that a power of attorney would protect him was Watts' first mistake, according to Lori Burch, a Dallas-based attorney who specializes in estate planning for same-sex couples.
Texas overwhelmingly approved a ban on same-sex marriage back in 2005. This means, legally, Watts has few options. In a guardianship proceeding, only blood relatives or spouses are eligible, according to Burch, so even a sympathetic judge will find that his or her hands are tied.
"Even if [the judge] wants to honor a same-sex relationship, they are not in a position where they can in Texas," Burch told HuffPost, explaining that guardianship supersedes Watts' power of attorney rights, giving the sister full control.
This case highlights the legal inequity in a state that does not recognize same-sex relationships, according to Burch.
"If Texas had recognized [Heath and Watts' relationship], the sister could have thrown her hat in the ring, but the judge would have been able to look at the other evidence," she said.
These are the "horror stories," Burch said, noting that she deals mostly with younger same-sex couples, who come to her to try to prevent this type of situation from occurring.
Since posting his story, Watts said he has been deluged with an "overwhelming" outpouring of online support, including offers of legal support. One of those attorneys is Dax Garvin, who told HuffPost in an email that he had spoken with Watts and has agreed to review the matter after Watts sends corroborating documents.
Watts has also set up a legal defense fund online, which, as of Thursday afternoon, had raised about $300.