Community, Equity, and a New Frontier

Brenda BuchananAn advisor to the Maine Community Foundation’s Equity Fund, Portland attorney Brenda Buchanan thinks a lot about the needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community in Maine. Here Buchanan talks about the Equity Fund and a recent continuing legal education (CLE) program the fund sponsored to help Maine attorneys, accountants, and financial planners better understand issues faced by those in same-sex partnerships.

MaineCF: Describe some of your ties to the Maine Community Foundation.

Brenda Buchanan: Six or seven years ago I was asked to join the advisory committee of the Equity Fund, which supports the LGBT community in Maine. Shortly thereafter I was invited to serve as an advisor to the newly-established Peaks Island Fund. I was living on the island at the time.

I was deeply involved in both communities. I always try to keep my ear to the ground about what needs exist, and in my work as an attorney I tend to hear from people who want to support their community’s needs financially.

MaineCF: What is the purpose of the Equity Fund?

Buchanan: The Equity Fund provides grants to improve the quality of life for Maine’s LGBT citizens. Over the years, it has made grants to support LGBT youth and elders, many health care and cultural initiatives, and a variety of efforts to educate Mainers about their LGBT neighbors.

MaineCF: Tell me about the recent CLE programs.

Buchanan: The CLE program for attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors was called “A New Frontier: Advising Same-Sex Couples in a Time of Great Change.” We gave it this title because it is a new frontier, especially for professional advisors who may be working with same-sex couples for the first time. The fact that the law is moving toward recognition of same-sex couples raises a lot of questions, and we wanted to help practitioners understand what recent changes mean -- and don’t mean -- for their clients.

We were fortunate to have the help of many Portland and Bangor professionals in planning and putting on the seminars. The topics we covered in the six-hour program included co-parenting and adoption, property co-ownership, estate planning techniques, and long-term care planning. The seminar in Portland was attended by folks from Cumberland, York and Oxford counties. In Bangor, practitioners from Penobscot, Waldo, Knox, Aroostook, and Washington counties were around the table.

MaineCF: Why were these seminars organized?

Buchanan: Professional advisors rarely have the chance to sit down and talk about the needs of same-sex couples as a discrete topic, yet most have clients who are in non-traditional relationships. Seminar participants were eager to discuss the available tools and approaches appropriate in various circumstances. They also wanted to know what legal changes still need to occur to put all couples on equal footing. There was a lot of give and take. It was great.

MaineCF: What is the future of this particular issue?

Buchanan: Maine law is in flux right now, as we know. The marriage equality law passed by the Legislature is being challenged at the ballot box this fall. Whatever the outcome of the November referendum, it won’t mean the end of the legal discrimination against same-sex couples. As long as the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is on the books, same-sex couples will still face unequal treatment under federal statutes affecting everything from Social Security and taxation to immigration and veterans’ benefits.

I look forward to the day when the law treats all families equally. Until then, professional advisors need to be aware of the disparate legal status of their clients who are same-sex couples and advise them appropriately.

Attorney Brenda Buchanan is a partner at Warren, Currier and Buchanan in Portland. Her areas of expertise include real estate, land use, small business and nonprofit organizations, and domestic partnership planning for individuals and same-sex couples. She is a graduate of Northeastern University and the University of Maine School of Law. In 2005, Buchanan received the Maine Civil Liberties Union’s Justice Louis Scolnik Award in honor of her advocacy on behalf of Maine parents and others. She is active as a volunteer with several land trusts and the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and co-chairs the advisory committee of MaineCF’s Equity Fund.