Indiana Coroner Refuses To Release Lesbian’s Body To Her Partner (UPDATED)
This story has fallen to pieces over the last several days since we originally picked it up. The reporter who broke the story, Bil Browning, cites conflicting reports, overworked and stressed sources, and Indiana’s terrible track record regarding LGBT issues in his apology for reporting a story that at this point seems to have never happened. We’ve printed a portion of his apology below.
I’m justifiably proud of my usual record of correctly reporting on important stories. In a couple of weeks I’ll be accepting the National Gay & Lesbian Journalist Association’s Online Journalist of the Year award & sitting on a panel discussion on how to maintain your credibility online. This is a perfect case study in doing the exact opposite. This was not award winning reporting, and I know it. It was below the expectations our readers have for the site and my own personal standards.
Please accept my apologies for not taking the usual care in following up behind sources. I rushed to publication and that decision has caused the families of two women who have already suffered the ultimate pain to suffer further. While I was trying to help, I ended up hurting not only those immediately involved and closest to the women, but thousands of Bilerico fans who look to us as an important news source, untold other news services who quickly picked up my inaccurate report, and my own credibility.
There is no excuse for my actions. While I thought I had my facts correct, I didn’t and that responsibility lays firmly at my own feet. I’m sorry.
By now you’ve probably heard about the storm that caused a freak accident during Sugarland’s performance at the Indiana State Fair this past weekend. A strong gust of wind caused the stage to blow forward and collapse upon the audience.
Over 40 people were injured, and five people were killed in the tragic accident. Unfortunately, the tragedy doesn’t end there.
One of the victims who lost their life was Christina Santiago, manager of programming at the Lesbian Community Care Project at Chicago’s Howard Brown Health Center. Her partner, Alisha Brennon, was also injured in the accident.
The bodies of the four others who died in the accident have been released by the coroner to their loved ones, and yet Santiago’s body remains in the morgue. The Marion County Coroner’s Office is refusing to release her body to Brennon, citing the Defense of Marriage Act as justification to not acknowledge Santiago and Brennon’s relationship.
Besides an aunt, Christian Santiago has no other next of kin besides her partner, Alisha. So we have to ask, who is this terribly discriminating law helping here? Certainly not Alisha who is being stopped by the federal government from planning her spouse’s funeral arrangements, even as she grapples with her own injuries. And the coroner’s office isn’t being assisted in any way here. Santiago remains in a small town’s morgue, taking up space.
What is the purpose of this? Why would somebody choose to inflict this kind of suffering upon someone who has lost their spouse? What good is the Defense of Marriage Act actually doing? How does inflicting harm upon Alisha Brennon in her darkest time of need strengthen “traditional marriage” in any way?
Our deepest condolences go out to Alisha, and all of those who lost loved ones that day. We’re so sorry for you loss, and in Alisha’s case, the punishment the government is putting your through for simply having loved a woman.
This story is clearly developing on multiple fronts. And while it certainly sounds like the Marion County Coroner’s Office is cooperating with Ms. Brennon in accordance with Christina Santiago’s aunt’s wishes, the fact remains that this horrific incident has shed light on a disturbing truth for many LGBT Americans. Life under DOMA means that any state that chooses not to acknowledge, accept or respect same-sex unions is fully within their rights to do so. Indiana in particular is in the process of taking this a state even further, having voted in one Congressional body to alter the state’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriages along with acknowledging those performed in other states.
While Christina and Alisha have the benefit -And I use that word loosely. There are no winners in this situation.- of national media attention insuring that they are treated with respect and dignity, the far majority of LGBT citizens in Indiana and other states without legal provisions do NOT possess fundamental rights like hospital visitation, the ability to adopt as a couple, or the ability to serve as a deceased partner’s next of kin. It’s not fair. It’s not right. And while the incident which sparked this conversation is a tragedy, at least our entire country is talking about the inequalities forced into the spotlight because of it.
Again, our deepest condolences go out to all of Christina Santiago and Alisha Brennon’s loved ones. We’re so sorry for your loss.