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Domestic partners gain funeral rights

The Rhode Island General Assembly voted last month to override the veto by Gov. Donald Carcieri '65 of a bill that will allow domestic partners to make arrangements for each other's funerals. The bill defines domestic partners as those in an "exclusive, intimate and committed relationship," in which the couple lives together and is financially interdependent.

Sen. Rhoda Perry P'91, D-Dist. 3, whose district includes College Hill, said the bill makes it "crystal clear" that domestic partners are on "the same tier" as spouses when it comes to funeral arrangements for loved ones.

"I wish it hadn't been necessary," Perry said. "I am glad that we had at least one bill last year that helped a struggling community, a community that has to fight for all of its civil rights. From that standpoint, it's good policy."

As one of the two sponsors of the bill, Perry said she was inspired by the tragic story of Mark Goldberg, who, after his partner of 17 years committed suicide, spent over a month trying to recover the body and bury it. "He called me personally to let me know all the problems he was having with the Department of Health and the coroner's office and the funeral home and the crematory, so I became very acutely aware of his problem," Perry said.

Of the legislature's override, Perry said, "It's hard to be elated over a right that is almost a civil right as far as I'm concerned — being able to bury the man or woman you love without having the bureaucratic nonsense."

The House voted again to approve the bill, 67-3, and the Senate did so, 29-3, easily providing the two-thirds vote necessary to override the veto issued by Carcieri last November.

Carcieri's press secretary Amy Kempe indicated the bill was superfluous, citing an "existing process prescribed by law to allow two individuals or an individual to name another individual to oversee funeral arrangements."

Following criticism of last November's veto, Carcieri indicated his openness to reciprocal rights legislation that would extend benefits not only to gay and lesbian couples, but other types of committed relationships as well. Kempe cited elderly individuals "living together and sharing resources for financial reasons" as another group that would benefit from such legislation.

"It's as simple as filling out the form which is available on the Department of Health's Web site. It doesn't require special legislation for a group of individuals," Kempe said.

"This bill is important — if it weren't, the governor would not have made the decision to veto it," said Linda Zang '10, the advocacy chair for the Brown Queer Alliance. She called his veto "unconscionable" and an "attack on the human dignity of gays and lesbians and Rhode Islanders in general."

Zang called the override a "great victory." "It shows just how tough the struggle for equality is," she said.


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