US & Canada

Judge rules Utah woman legally married to deceased partner

Two women sit side by side Image copyright Bonne Foerster
Image caption Throughout the couple's long relationship, they both faced a series of major health issues.

A Utah state judge has declared a 74-year-old woman and her long-term lesbian partner legally married, three months after her wife died.

Judge Patrick Corum declared Bonnie Foerster legally married to Beverly Grossaint, who died in May in Salt Lake City at age 82.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Utah in 2013 and nationwide in 2015.

Utah does not have common law marriage but residents can petition the court to recognise a marriage.

"My heart was so full with love," Ms Foerster recalls of the 21 August ruling.

Judge Corum "came down from the bench and hugged me and said, 'yes you are married,'" Ms Foerster told the BBC.

Image copyright Bonnie Foerster
Image caption A judge has declared Bonnie Foerster married to partner Beverly Grossaint, months after Ms Grossaint's passing

Robert Hoole, Ms Foerster's attorney and friend of the couple for more than 20 years said the ruling is unusual, though not unprecedented.

Mr Hoole told the BBC that this month's ruling marks the second case of its kind in Utah.

"It's even more rare do it with same-sex couples" he said.

In the many years he knew the couple, Mr Hoole said he saw a "real bond" between the partners.

Image copyright Bonnie Foerster
Image caption "She was made for me and I was made for her," says Ms Foerster of Ms Grossaint, her partner for over 50 years

Ms Foerster first met Ms Grossaint more than 50 years ago in in New York City in January 1968.

Their initial meeting occurred under unhappy conditions. Escaping an abusive husband, Ms Foerster said she was suffering from broken ribs, and wore dark sunglasses to conceal two black eyes. "I was banged up from head to toe," she says.

"She came over to me and she said, 'take your sunglasses off, it's January,'" says Ms Foerster.

The connection was instant.

"I fell in love. I looked into her blue eyes, and I fell in love," she says. "She was the one for me."

Just over a week later, the couple moved in together. They were inseparable from that point on, according to Ms Foerster.

Image copyright Bonnie Foerster
Image caption Bonnie Foerster and partner Beverly Grossaint were together for over 50 years before Ms Grossaint's death

Ms Foerster told the BBC that friendship was key to their lasting relationship, even through its challenges.

"We laughed a lot. We never went to bed angry. We said 'I love you' even though we pissed each other off sometimes."

They moved to Utah in 1979 to take care of Ms Grossaint's ailing mother.

The couple's five-decade relationship endured a series of health challenges faced by Ms Foerster.

Throughout their relationship, Ms Foerster suffered from breast cancer and cervical cancer, underwent 29 back surgeries, blindness caused by macular degeneration and a rare bone infection that caused amputation of both legs in 2016.

"She stood by me," says Ms Foerster. "She was an amazing woman, with amazing morals."

By 2016, Ms Grossaint was beset by her own health problems, including vision loss and chronic heart failure.

Though the couple lived in separate care facilities during the month before Ms Grossaint's death, Ms Foerster was with her partner when she died.

"I never let go of her hand and felt all the love she had for me."

After 50 years together, Ms Foerster says the loss of her partner has been devastating.

"I'm lost. I don't know who I am," Ms Foerster says. "She was my life."

Ms Foerster added that they had a "holy union" ceremony - not legally binding - in New York City in 1975.

But their continued health issues prevented them from marrying when it became legal throughout the US in 2015.

Though she experienced discrimination her "whole life" due to her sexuality, Ms Foerster says she has experienced positive change throughout her relationship with Ms Grossaint.

"I think people are more accepting now."

Image copyright Bonnie Foerster
Image caption "We laughed a lot," said Ms Foerster of her and her long-term partner

Utah does not have common law marriage, but the state allows couples to petition the court for marriage recognition without a formal ceremony.

Partners must be of legal age, be legally capable of entering a marriage, have lived together, treat each other as though they are married and present themselves so that others believe they are married.

"She was born for me and I was born for her," Ms Foerster told the BBC. "We found each other. I believe that."

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