January 27, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 04
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Harsh truths of male love on the range
Harsh truths of male love on the range
Man looses it all due to legal technicality in partner's will

by Jessie Torrisi - Columbia News Service

On the face of it, Sam Beaumont, 61, with his cowboy hat, deep-throated chuckle and Northwestern drawl, is not so different from the ranch hands in Ang Lee's critically acclaimed film "Brokeback Mountain," which opened this month.

More "Romeo & Juliet" than "Rent," "Brokeback Mountain" moves beyond stereotypes to challenge modern perceptions of what it means to be Gay in rural America.

"Listen," the character Twist says to del Mar as part of a dream that goes unrealized. "I'm thinking, tell you what, if you and me had a little ranch together, little cow and calf operation, your horses, it'd be some sweet life."

That pretty much describes the life Beaumont had. He settled down with Earl Meadows and tended 50 head of cattle for a quarter-century on an Oklahoma ranch. "I was raised to be independent. I didn't really care what other people thought," Beaumont said.

In 1977, Beaumont was divorced and raising three kids after a dozen years in the Air Force when Meadows walked up to him by the banks of the Arkansas River.

"It was a pretty day-Jan. 15, 65 degrees," Beaumont said. "He came up, we got to talkin' till two in the morning. I don't even remember what we said." But "I knew it was something special."

Beaumont moved to be with Meadows in his partner's hometown of Bristow, Okla., a place of 4,300 people. Together, they bought a ranch and raised Beaumont's three sons. The mortgage and most of the couple's possessions were put in Meadows' name.

During the day Meadows worked as a comptroller for Black & Decker. He'd drop the boys at school on his way to work. At home, Beaumont took care of the ranch, feeding and tagging cattle, cooking and cleaning, and once built a barn.

"As far as I was concerned, I had two dads," said one of Beaumont's sons, now 33, who requested anonymity. He was 2 years old when Meadows joined the family.

"Dad helped with schoolwork and all the stuff around the house, taught me to ride horses and milk cows. Earl used to take me to the company picnics and Christmas parties. He bought me my first car."

Most of their friends, Beaumont said, were straight couples, women who worked at Black & Decker, "teachers and doctors and lawyers," and childhood friends of Meadows who often came to dinner at the ranch.

"People treated Beaumont fine," said Eunice Lawson, who runs a grocery store in Bristow.

But in 1999, Meadows had a stroke and Beaumont took care of him for a year until he died at age 56.

That's where the fantasy of a life together on the range collides with reality. After a quarter-century on the ranch he shared with his partner, Beaumont lost it all on a legal technicality in a state that doesn't recognize domestic partnerships.

Meadows' will, which left everything to Beaumont, was fought in court by a cousin of the deceased and was declared invalid by the Oklahoma Court of Appeals in 2003 because it was short one witness signature.

A judge ruled the rancher had to put the property, which was appraised at $100,000, on the market. The animals were sold. Beaumont had to move.

Meadows' cousins did not respond to requests for comment.

"The will was not legally valid," said a paralegal for Melvin Gilbertson, the lawyer for Meadows' cousins. "Had Earl made his wishes known in a valid will, that would've been that."

Since Meadows had no biological children or surviving parents, his estate was divided up among his heirs. The American Civil Liberties Union came to Meadows' defense in court, arguing that he should be looked upon as a family member rather than a stranger, but that effort failed.

When the ranch sells, the proceeds are to be divided among dozens of Meadows' cousins.

"They took the estate away from me," said Beaumont, who said he put about $200,000 of his own money into the ranch. "Everything that had Earl's name on it, they took. They took it all and didn't bat an eye."

Every state has common law marriage rules that protect heterosexual couples. If someone dies without a will, or with a faulty one, his or her live-in partner is treated as the rightful inheritor.

But only seven states currently give Gay couples protections-like inheritance rights and health benefits- through marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships.

What's more, Oklahoma last year amended its state constitution to ensure that marriage, or any similar arrangement, is not extended to same-sex couples.

The only way for families like Beaumont's to protect themselves is with private contracts. "Many people don't know how," Beaumont said. "Hindsight is 20-20."

Today, there are roughly 90,000 Gay couples living in small-town America, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, and more than 5,700 in Oklahoma alone.

Back in 1980, however, Beaumont's family was a rarity. "Most of the people here didn't care [about us being together]," Beaumont said. "They are too busy trying to make a living and live their life."

Last year, Beaumont moved to nearby Wewoka, Okla., to a one-bedroom place with 350 acres for his horses, white Pyrenees and Great Dane to roam. He said he was continuing to fight the cousins, who are suing for back rent for the years he lived on the ranch.

"You lost the one you been with all those years, you're trying to get along, survive," Beaumont said. "Then here comes somebody who doesn't care nothing about you and everything you made and takes all of it.

"But bitter? No. I don't hold grudges," he said. "It's between them and the good Lord above."


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