If you’re straight and your husband or wife dies, you have the power to decide what to do with your loved one’s body and how to carry out their wishes. However, if you are a gay man or woman in Minnesota — a state that doesn’t recognize marriage equality — you won’t have that option, thanks to Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R). Explaining his veto of the bill, Pawlenty simply said there “is no actual need” to give same-sex couples equal end-of-life rights. From his official statement on Saturday:
The bill addresses the categories of individuals who under the law shall be given priority for purposes of determining the disposition of the remains of a deceased person. Currently a person can, by executing a will, designate who shall be empowered to control final disposition of his or her remains. The bill therefore addresses a nonexistent problem.
Marriage — defined as between a man and a woman — should remain elevated in our society a special level, as it traditionally has been. I oppose efforts to treat domestic relationships as the equivalent of traditional marriage. Accordingly, I am opposed to this bill.
Ann Kaner-Roth, executive director of LGBT advocacy group Project 515, responded that Pawlenty’s “comment that the proposed legislation is unnecessary shows he is out of step with the experiences of real Minnesotans. … The language in this bill reflects closely language already used by Minnesota’s leading businesses.” Additionally, a person in a heterosexual marriage is not required to have a living will in order for his or her spouse to carry out end-of-life wishes, so it’s unclear why one should be necessary for same-sex partners. The bill would also have given “surviving partners the right to sue those responsible should their partner be killed.”
As a new Center for American Progress report on the needs of LGBT elders finds, Minnesota is considered a “legal stranger” state, where “same-sex partners (or members of families of choice) in these states effectively have no chance to be designated as surrogate medical decision makers for their incapacitated partners/loved ones.” LGBT elders therefore generally need an advanced health care directive (AHD), which includes a living will and a health care power of attorney:
In practice, to protect themselves, LGBT elders must remember to carry their AHDs with them at all times — if an individual is rushed to the hospital without these documents, a loved one can still legally be denied access (see sidebar on page 40). Finally, problems may arise when an elder travels out of state, as one state may not always recognize the health care directive of another state.
Additionally, obtaining an AHD can be difficult, since many elders are unaware or do not have the means to secure one, and “medical providers and long-term care facilities often ignore or challenge the AHDs of LGBT people.” (HT: Joe Sudbay at AMERICAblog)
In Rhode Island last year, Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) vetoed a similar bill.