Final wishes: Proposed bill aims to help grieving same-sex couples


Tim Reardon thought he and his partner, Eric, had prepared everything they needed in the event one of them died. But when Eric lost his struggle with brain cancer, Tim discovered that a single mistake in the expensive legal documents the couple had drafted meant that Eric’s dying wishes would not be granted. Because marriage is prohibited for couples like them, Tim and Eric didn’t get the rights regarding end-of-life decision-making automatically granted to legally married couples.

“I had no right to make decisions about Eric’s remains. I felt betrayed and angry. After all, we had lived out our commitment to each other and commitment to Tess,” he said, referring to his daughter, who turns 6 this year. “We had done what we were supposed to do to protect our family.”

Minnesota legislators are introducing legislation to fix that inequality. Spearheaded by Project 515, a group dedicated to shining a light on the 515 ways it says Minnesota discriminates against same-sex couples, the Final Wishes Act would give same-sex couples equal opportunities to carry out the desires of their partners. Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, introduced the legislation on Thursday.

“This proposed legislation focuses on real issues that affect Minnesota families every day,” said Murphy. “Particularly at a time when families are struggling, our laws should not unduly add stress, financial hardship or even homelessness to the problems families face.”

Laura Smidzik, executive director of Project 515, said the bill would give same-sex couples the automatic right to make end-of-life choices for each other. “Same-sex couples often try to replicate these rights with legal documents that are sometimes ignored. This bill eliminates a costly and often ineffective legal document to make an after death decision.”

Project 515 is also drafting legislation to address other areas where Minnesota law presents challenges for same-sex partners. When a partner in a same-sex couple is wrongfully killed, for example, the surviving partner would have the legal recourse, as lawfully married couples in Minnesota automatically do, to sue the wrongdoer. When a partner in a same-sex couple passes on and there is a lien on the couple’s shared property, the state can seize the property. A widowed spouse can legally maintain that residence so long as the couple were married.

“Minnesota families need to know that our laws will treat them fairly, especially during times of sadness and mourning,” said Project 515’s Smidzik. “Pursuing revisions to some of the 515 laws that discriminate will help us build stronger families and households in our state.”

With a DFL-majority supportive of these issues, the bill has a shot in the Legislature. Bill supporters say they will be working with Gov. Tim Pawlenty to persuade him to sign the bill should it pass. “We do believe that he does value equality for Minnesota citizens,” said Smidzik.