By Heidi Blake and Katie J.M. Baker: For Complete Post, click here…
Falling in love and getting married cast two very different couples into the same nightmare. A BuzzFeed News investigation.
EARLY ONE AUGUST MORNING, a young woman in camouflage shorts and a plastic tiara slipped out of a building in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and hopped into the Dodge Neon idling outside. She snatched a brief kiss with her childhood sweetheart, waiting at the wheel in cowboy boots, before he gunned the engine and set out along the Flaming Gorge canyon. At 7:15 a.m., just across the border in Utah, Arieana Wynter and Jesse Jones were declared husband and wife.
It was 2,000 miles away, in Florida, that a retired engineer and former Navy reservist named Doug Keegan donned a crisp suit and said his vows. His bride wore a white dress dotted with pink flowers. Monica Steele had transformed Keegan’s life since the pair met the previous year. After decades as a bachelor, he finally had someone to cook for, sing to, and teach how to swing a golf club. They had already honeymooned in Kenya. Now it was time to make it official. “When I said, ‘I’m going to love you forever,’” he later recalled, “that was cemented into my heart.”
The two couples were worlds apart in age, wealth, and social background — but their marriages had something in common that neither could have imagined. Each one would be used to support arguments that both Wynter and Keegan had mental disabilities so profound that they were incapable of making decisions about their own lives and should instead live under the control of virtual strangers.
Wynter and Keegan were sucked into America’s sprawling guardianship system, which was designed as a last-resort protection for people who are incapacitated by a mental or physical disability. Guardians who carry out their duties faithfully can provide a lifeline for those in need. But an ongoing BuzzFeed News investigation has found that the system has grown into a lucrative and poorly regulated industry that has subsumed more than a million adults.
Most of the freedoms articulated in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights are denied to people under full guardianship: They can lose their rights to vote, marry, start a family, decide where they live, consent to medical treatment, spend their money, seek employment, or own property. It is among the most severe measures the courts can impose on a US citizen.