Senate passes “death rights” bill for same-sex couples


by Andy Birkey | 5/4/09 • Despite fierce opposition from Republicans, a bill that would allow same-sex partners to make end-of-life decisions for their partners passed the Minnesota Senate on Thursday by a 37 to 24 vote. The bill, which also gives same-sex partners the right to sue for wrongful death, was opposed by legislators who said it was simply a back door to gay marriage.

The bill gives same-sex couples rights currently prohibited by law: it creates a definition of “domestic partner,” allows partners to sue in cases of wrongful death and gives same-sex partners decision-making power about remains.

“It seems to me what we are doing here is writing a definition of what a same-sex marriage would be or something by another name,” said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “I guess I’m just a little surprised. If we want to redefine what marriage is then we should have that full debate.”

He asked how the state would determine what a committed relationship is and why heterosexual couples weren’t included. “Does it have to be a sexual relationship between same-sex people in order for this to apply?”

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, also thought the bill would legalize gay marriage in Minnesota. “That’s what this bill is all about, and it is designed to specifically challenge the definition of marriage in Minnesota.”

But the bill’s chief author, Duluth DFLer Yvonne Prettner Solon, said the bill is simply about correcting injustice in state statute.

“This is not an attempt to redefine what marriage is. This is not about challenging the definition of marriage,” she said. “This is about equal rights. This is just about fairness. This is about equality. This is about some Minnesotans who do not have the right to make decisions about their deceased loved ones.”

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, agreed. “It is humane that we make this decision today and we give these partners the right to make decisions about their deceased,” she said.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who has a same-sex partner was offended by the implication that it is a back door to gay marriage.

“I think we are getting dangerously close to a line we don’t cross in this Senate,” he said. “This proposal simply provides these people some decency and fairness to make decisions that they need to make. To diminish this or to call it a pretext [to gay marriage] is an insult to our constituents that deal with this issue everyday at a moment of tragedy in their lives.”

A companion bill awaits a vote in the House. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has indicated that he will veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.

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