Injustice x 2
It's tempting to call the stage collapse in Indiana this week a tragedy. It was certainly a tragic loss for the families of the dead and injured, that much is true. On the other hand, it appears that the organizers of the show should have known enough to evacuate the area, and especially to get the light operators down from the structure, before there was any loss of life. They had plenty of advance warning, and a nearby outdoor concert was evacuated in time based on the same information.
Whether the stage collapse was due to a fluke, unpredictable gust of wind known as a gustnado, and whether the force could have been anticipated, will undoubtedly be investigated in the coming weeks and months.
A different human tragedy, though, is entirely manmade, and could be easily remedied.
One of the concertgoers killed in the collapse was Christina Santiago, who had become known in the Chicago community as a dedicated advocate for gay women’s health care. Santiago, 29, was a program manager at the Howard Brown Health Center, which provides health and services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
It was reported on Facebook and Dailykos yesterday that the local coroner's office was refusing to release the body to Santiago's legally married spouse, Alisha Brennan, because of Indiana's discriminatory marriage laws. This appears to be incorrect. In fact, the groups concerned with Santiago, Brennan, and their family are reportedly working with the coroner's office to obtain release of the body.
Alfarena Ballew from the Marion County Coroner's office called to offer this statement, "Her friend and her aunt are working together with the life partner to take care of the remains. We have nothing in writing from the partner asking to claim the body. Our records show that the next of kin is her aunt. Our understanding now is that they're all working together to release the body and take care of the services." Ms. Ballew described the incident as a "misunderstanding" and says the office is on track to release the body shortly.
Still, the bolded language above deserves special attention. Even in the face of a legal marriage, this government agency has determined that Santiago's aunt is her next of kin. Would this be tolerated, or even suggested, if this were a married heterosexual couple?
To even ask the question is to answer it. It's encouraging that this situation appears to be on its way to a resolution, and the coroner's office appears to be handling it with sensitivity. Nevertheless, can someone explain to me how the public interest or family values are served by refusing to recognize this marriage?
Note: all the technical information about the storm and outdoor stage construction posted or referred to here comes from John Huntington, a colleague of my son at City Technical College in Brooklyn.