LOS ANGELES - The American Civil Liberties Union told the Housing Authority of Santa Monica today to stop stalling and allow a gay man to live with his partner of 10 years.
"California and Santa Monica law make it very clear that you can't discriminate against gay people in housing," said Christine P. Sun, a staff attorney for the ACLU's Lesbian & Gay Rights Project. "Yet the Santa Monica Housing Authority keeps stalling and creating road blocks to keep this couple apart. It's time for the excuses to stop."
Gene Boccia and Brett Crowley recently celebrated 10 years together. Because both are disabled and forced to rely on public assistance, the couple has always been in fear of violating rules that would jeopardize their assistance. Boccia, disabled since a 1974 hate crime in which he was shot in the face, has been living in the same public housing complex since 1999. Crowley, a disabled veteran, rents a room from a friend with funds he receives from SSI. Though living apart has been a hardship, Crowley has always been supportive of Boccia, going with him to medical appointments, helping him with his grocery shopping, doing his laundry and cleaning his apartment.
Boccia recently learned from an unmarried, cohabitating heterosexual couple that he could apply to the Housing Authority to have Crowley share his apartment with him. Almost immediately, the couple submitted the necessary paperwork. The Housing Authority refused to act on the request, claiming instead that Boccia is in violation of his lease because Crowley was an "unauthorized tenant" in the apartment. The couple has repeatedly submitted paperwork, including a record from the Department of Motor Vehicles and a letter from Crowley's roommate, proving that Crowley lives elsewhere. (In the letter sent today, the ACLU provided a letter sent to Crowley at his home address from National Republican Senatorial Committee as additional proof of his separate residence.)
"The Housing Authority keeps making us jump through all these hoops and provide all this paperwork, but our straight friends' request to live together was approved almost immediately," said Boccia. "I'm about to undergo surgery and really need Brett to be able to look after me."
The ACLU first wrote to the Housing Authority on October 13, 2004 urging it to stop stalling on Boccia's application. The Housing Authority responded to that letter by again claiming that Boccia must first clear up the matter of Crowley living as an unauthorized tenant.
"Claiming that Boccia has violated his lease because Crowley was living in his apartment is nothing more than a smokescreen for discrimination," said Catherine Lhamon, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. "They've provided ample proof that Crowley had his own apartment. Besides, the point is irrelevant since he is legally entitled to live there anyway."
Noting that both state and city law prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, today's ACLU letter demands that the Housing Authority immediately approve the couple's request to live together. The letter also highlights the extreme hardship caused by the Housing Authority's handling of the matter. Crowley is forced to spend hours on the bus so that he can take Boccia to his doctors' appointments. Boccia, who at 62 now faces multiple medical problems, is forced to live alone without Crowley by his side should he need emergency treatment.
The couple's struggle illustrates the difficulties same-sex couples on limited incomes face in trying to protect their relationships, the ACLU said. Because the couple has not been allowed to live together, they are prevented from registering as domestic partners with the City of Santa Monica. However, marriage in California, which carries greater protections than domestic partnership, does not require couples to live together.