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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rhode Island Gov denies Gays funeral planning for loved ones

Governor Carcieri has vetoed a bill giving domestic partners the right to claim the bodies of — and make funeral arrangements for — their loved ones.

The only one of the dueling defense-of-marriage, same-sex marriage and gay-rights bills introduced in Rhode Island this year that cleared the General Assembly, the legislation was an outgrowth of the wrenching tale that Mark S. Goldberg told lawmakers about his months-long battle last fall to persuade state authorities to release to him the body of his partner of 17 years, Ron Hanby, for cremation.

“I felt as if I was treated not as a second-class citizen, but as a noncitizen,” Goldberg told the Senate Judiciary Committee last winter, because “we were not legally married or blood relatives.”

In his veto message, Republican Carcieri said: “This bill represents a disturbing trend over the past few years of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage, which is not the preferred way to approach this issue.

“If the General Assembly believes it would like to address the issue of domestic partnerships, it should place the issue on the ballot and let the people of the State of Rhode Island decide,” he wrote.

He took issue with the definition of a domestic partner as “a person who, prior to the decedent’s death, was in an exclusive, intimate and committed relationship with the decedent” for at least a year, saying a year “is not a sufficient duration to establish a serious bond between two individuals ... [relative to] issues regarding funeral arrangements, burial rights and disposal of human remains.”

He also questioned “how it would be ascertained in many circumstances whether [a couple] had been in a relationship for year” since there is “no official or recognized form” of domestic partnership agreement in Rhode Island.

Coming on a day when he vetoed more than two dozen bills passed during the legislature’s hectic two-day special session in late October, the veto of this bill unleashed a torrent of anger from gay-rights advocates.

Describing himself as “genuinely upset” by Carcieri’s actions, the House sponsor, Rep. David Segal, D-Providence, said: “I think the man is heartless … [this] doesn’t change the definition of the word ‘marriage.’ ” (Sen. Rhoda Perry sponsored the matching Senate bill.)

“It is completely disgraceful that Governor Carcieri has chosen to ignore and devalue the committed relationships of same-sex couples in this state,” said Karen Loewy, a staff attorney for GLAD, the acronym for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. “Unconscionable,” echoed Kathy Kushnir, executive director of the advocacy group Marriage Equality of Rhode Island.