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Marriage Equality Laws – No Rights in Wrongful Death Case


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Terri Binion photo by Darin Back, orlandoweekly.com

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On May 3, 2011, Orlando musician Terri Binion kissed her wife Tracy Irwin goodbye just like she might on any other morning – except, as Binion wasn’t feeling well, she only offered her cheek. Irwin was working as a contractor for a company hired by Cirque du Soleil to help complete its ambitious construction on its huge Zarkana set at Amway Arena. By 8 a.m., Irwin was at work, loading aluminum lighting trusses onto forklifts and stabilizing the load as it was slowly lifted into the air. What happened next would change Binion’s life forever. The load tilted, then it fell, fatally crushing Irwin.

Over the following three years, Binion – who legally married Irwin in California in September 2008 – attempted to make any right out of the wrong that she could through legal recourse. According to an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the forklift driver was not properly trained or licensed by his employer, Cirque. The company was fined $10,000 for Irwin’s wrongful death. But that was all that could be done.

Armed with a team of attorneys and the support of Irwin’s ex, who was still named executor in Irwin’s will, Binion came up against the legal wall facing many same-sex married couples lost in a patchwork of state-by-state marriage equality laws – she had no rights in Florida, especially not in a wrongful death case. “One-third of the states recognize your marriage and two-thirds don’t?” Lambda Legal attorney Beth Littrell says. “It has to be resolved. We can’t have a United States of America and treat people this way.”


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