A a bill that would give same-sex couples some rights at the time of death passed the Minnesota Legislature today, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty has threatened to veto the bill. Republicans opposed the bill saying that it would discriminate against opposite sex couples. Supporters said opposite sex couples have access to marriage; same-sex couples do not.

The bill would allow a surviving domestic partner to sue for wrongful death and also give a surviving the right to executive the final wishes of a deceased partner including burial and funeral arrangements.

Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, is the author of the bill in the House. She said the bill should pass “because we should never tolerate discrimination in Minnesota.”

“I’m not sure why you are singling out same-sex couples, why we wouldn’t allow it for opposite sex couples?” Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria, said. “I’d suggest that your bill discriminates against those those individuals that choose not to get married.”

He added that he has a “very strong personal convicted belief that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman.”

Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, added, “This would in fact discriminate against a man and a woman trying to operate in this framework.”

Murphy responded that the bill is to “correct discrimination against couples that don’t have access to marriage.” She said that opposite sex couples have access to the same rights through marriage; same-sex couples do not.

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, got some laughs when he said, “To call this bill divisive is sooo 2005.” He said public opinion has shifted greatly in the last five years and that young people especially support rights for same-sex couples.

And Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, the only LGBT member of the House, spoke. “This is not a divisive social issue, this is a coming together of families,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine losing my partner of 21 years. I can barely bear to think of that.”

After a vote of 78 to 54 in favor of the bill, Clark said, “I thank all of you for voting for it. It’s just basic human decency.”

After a similar debate in the Senate, the bill passed on Wednesday, but as it heads to Pawlenty’s
desk, he says he will be vetoing the bill.

“I think the effort that’s underway in this bill is simply a political game to get the concept or the wording domestic partner into state law,” Pawlenty said. “And I would suggest the Legislature focus on addressing our budget issues rather than trying to tee up divisive social issues.”

Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of Project 515, said, “These bills, which support same-sex families in their darkest hours, move Minnesota in the right direction. We encourage the Governor to choose equality and fairness, as have the majority of Minnesotans, and sign this important legislation.”

Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of Project 515, stated, “We commend the Minnesota House and especially Reps. Murphy and Simon for their leadership on equality for same-sex couples. These bills, which support same-sex families in their darkest hours, move Minnesota in the right direction. We encourage the Governor to choose equality and fairness, as have the majority of Minnesotans, and sign this important legislation.”

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, the Senate author of the bill responded to indications from the governor’s office that he would veto the bill:

“This is a simple matter of fairness. Under current law, married couples are granted the right to carry out the final wishes of their deceased spouses, and to recover damages in wrongful death lawsuits. Same-sex, committed couples, however, have no such rights. This is a very narrow bill that ensures loving, caring partners are afforded some very basic rights when their loved one dies.

It’s important that we look at the two issues in this bill separately. In terms of allowing a domestic partner to carry out their spouses final wishes, the Governor’s spokesman is correct to suggest that couples can have legal documents drawn up to reflect who is authorized to make these types of decisions. However, these legal documents are not fail-safe.

In one instance, a couple paid considerable amounts of money to draft powers of attorney, health care directives and other documents to ensure their relationship would be legally recognized in the case of one partner dying. Then, after one partner passed, a small error was discovered in their health care directive. That small error left the surviving partner without any rights in determining what happened to his loved ones’ remains. By recognizing their rights in state law, we can ensure something like this never happens again.

The other issue in this bill cannot be handled by drafting legal documents. In the case of a wrongful death, the surviving spouse of a married couple is allowed to sue the wrong-doer to cover medical and funeral expenses. Same-sex partners cannot, and are left to bear the costs themselves if their partners are wrongfully killed. Our bill would ensure that surviving partners and their families will no longer suffer financially after a wrongful death.

I urge the Governor to reconsider his opposition to this bill. These are simple, common-sense measures we can take to provide some comfort to those who have lost loved ones.”

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