As the legislative session nears its end at the Minnesota Capitol, advocates of rights for same-sex couples are giving legislators a last minute push on a key piece of legislation. Project 515 held a press conference on Tuesday to urge the House take a vote on a bill sitting on the House floor: the Final Wishes and Wrongful Death bill. On hand were individuals who, at a profound time of grief, found that the law afforded them no recognition in making arrangements for their deceased partners.
The Final Wishes portion of the bill would allow same-sex couples to honor the final wishes of their deceased partner in terms of burial or cremation or other arrangements at the time of death, and the Wrongful Death section would provide a surviving same-sex partner to seek justice in the event of a wrongful death.
“Last year, we promised Minnesota families we would correct the discrimination that exists during the most difficult time in their lives – the loss of a loved one,” said Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, who is the House author of the bill. “Now it’s time to pass this legislation and sign it into law.”
At the press conference, Randy Miranda told reporters and legislators about the experience he went through when his partner Tom died of esophageal cancer. He recalled the Cremation Society telling him that Minnesota law didn’t recognize their relationship – even though the couple had drawn up power-of-attorney documents.
“All of a sudden, you’re an outsider,” Miranda said. “For hours each and every day for five months, I was there as Tom’s partner [while he battled cancer]. Yet I’m not allowed to take on the final responsibility and carry out Tom’s wishes. We need to turn that around so no other families have to face this painful reality.”
Miranda’s story echoes that of Tim Reardon and his late partner Eric; as the Minnesota Independent reported last year, Reardon wasn’t able to make final arrangements after his partner Eric died from brain cancer.
“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,” said Reardon, referring to his young daughter. “We had done what we were supposed to do to protect our family.”
They had arranged for Reardon to have power of attorney, but it was not honored.
Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, called for an end to the discrimination.
“Eight out of 10 Minnesotans agree that government should not treat people differently because of their sexual orientation,” she said. “Committed same-sex couples and their families are our friends, family members, colleagues and members of our faith communities. They deserve the same rights and responsibilities we all expect but only some of us actually receive.”
Ann Kaner-Roth of Project 515, a group advocating for the bill, told the Minnesota Independent it’s vital that people call their representatives and urge them to call for a vote on the bill.
While she’s concerned that Gov. Tim Pawlenty may veto the bill, Kaner-Roth said the issue is a winning one in Minnesota – even if same-sex marriage is not.
“The majority of Minnesotans are on the side of equality with this issue,” she said. “There’s a lot of constituent interest.”