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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to the advice you gave to "Upset in Tennessee," whose son was unhappy that his live-in was not considered a part of the family.

You are so right about this arrangement not being sanctioned by religions, and that the right to inherit property, the right to collect their Social Security benefits, share in lower cost on insurance and to make medical decisions are not allowed couples who are not legally married. The live-in may even be barred from the beloved's hospital room.

Abby, I have lived with a man for 40 years. We have paid our taxes; raised two fine children who are now responsible, loving, law-abiding adults; volunteered when our community needed us; attended church regularly; and yet we never married.

I have read your column for years and was often amazed by the advice you have given your readers. I seldom disagreed with it. But this time I was astounded by your answer because it stated in print what gays have been fighting for so loudly over the past decades.

Oh, did I forget to mention that my live-in and I are gay? -- SANTA CLARITA, CALIF., READER

DEAR SANTA CLARITA READER: I am in favor of committed relationships, regardless of the sexes of the individuals. I think what makes religious conservatives uncomfortable at the notion of same-sex committed partnerships is the term "marriage." Call it what you will, legally recognized domestic partnerships carrying equal legal entitlements should be available to everyone. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I am writing in response to "Upset in Tennessee," who refuses to recognize her son's "live-in" because the two are not married.

I have a slightly different twist to the story. I am a gay man in my 40s and have been in two long-term relationships. The first was for 12 wonderful years and ended in 1990 when my partner died. When he and I visited my parents at the same time my brother and his live-in girlfriend did, my mother showed my brother and his girlfriend to separate bedrooms, but showed my partner and me to the same bedroom.

My brother was upset and asked, "Mother, why are you making us sleep in separate rooms and letting 'Jim' and 'Doug' share the same room?" Mother responded: "If Jim and Doug could be married, they would be, so in my eyes, they are married. You, on the other hand, CHOOSE not to be married and therefore, under my roof, you will abide by my rules."

Abby, I wish the law and society were as wise and understanding as my parents.

I agree that people who love each other and have a committed relationship should be married, and I wish I could marry the person I love and have lived with for six years. But until society can accept our love, I guess we will have to be without benefit of the "cheap piece of paper." As it stands, if he becomes ill and hospitalized, I may not even be allowed to visit him.

Thanks, Abby, for hearing me out. I wish I COULD "make it legal." -- MARRIED IN MY HEART

DEAR MARRIED: Your mother is a woman with great insight and compassion. And I hope that one day soon your wish is granted.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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