Same-sex couples want bill to protect end-of-life decisions in Minn.by Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Cathy Croghan and Kathy Robbins have been together for nearly three decades.
They are a couple, but worry about what will happen if either of them becomes seriously ill, or dies. That's why they always carry documents proving they can make health decisions for each other.
"If I step forward and say this is my life partner and I know what she wants, that has no bearing," Croghan said. "I need to have that document in my hand to be assured that what we want to happen will in fact happen."
Advocates for same-sex couples say Minnesota needs a law that protects the rights of surviving members of domestic partnerships to make those decisions. A 2009 bill that would have done so did not pass before the legislative session ended, but advocates hope state lawmakers will support it when they return to the capitol next month.
Until Minnesota has such a law, domestic partners will have to vigilant. That's why Croghan and Roberts, of Roseville, are meticulous about keeping their power of attorney paperwork and health care directives up to date.
A health care directive allows a person to designate someone else who could make health decisions for them.
"Every few years we go back and take another look at them and ask ourselves, 'Is this enough?' " Croghan said. "Are we really protected? Then we find ourselves going to see a new attorney and often revising documents accordingly."
Things can still go wrong, even when couples take the right steps.
Tim Reardon and Eric Mann, of Golden Valley, thought they had done everything possible to make sure they could make decisions for each other. But in 2006, after Mann died from a brain tumor at 40, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office called Mann's parents -- not Reardon.
So Reardon went to the office, armed with a bundle of legal documents. Reardon said Mann's parents supported his decisions.
"The medical examiner's office agreed to let me sign only after they relinquished their rights," said Reardon, 51. "We had done everything we were told to do and in the end it wasn't enough."
Reardon's case led to end-of-life legislation approved by the DFL-controlled state Senate in the last session. The bill would give surviving domestic partners the right to make choices about their loved one's remains. It would also give partners the right to sue for compensation in cases of wrongful death.
The bill, written by Project 515, an advocacy group, purposely avoids same sex marriage, said its executive director, Laura Smidzik.
"I would much rather have these laws than worry about the argument today about whether we should have the right to marry or not," Smidzik said. "As long as we throw marriage in there we often lose people's ear to even learn what discrimination looks like."
The legislation didn't pass the much more conservative house last session. But if approved this year, the legislation would go to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk for approval.
Pawlenty's office did not respond to requests for comment. But the governor's recent remarks don't bode well for the bill's supporters. Last month, Pawlenty told Newsweek magazine a Minnesota law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation is "overly broad."
Pawlenty voted for the law as a state legislator in 1993. Now he says it should be changed.
Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council, expects Pawlenty to veto the end-of-life legislation if it lands on his desk. Prichard opposes the legislation, and thinks it's a step toward marriage rights for same sex couples.
"I think if two individuals care for one another there are legal options now. And there's alternatives which have been proposed," Prichard said. "But when you limit it just to domestic partners, gay and lesbian, then you're trying to replicate the unique relationship of marriage and we just think that's the wrong way for society to go."
End-of-life legislation is gaining ground in some other states. Legislators in Rhode Island this week voted override a veto by Gov. Don Carcieri of bills to allow same-sex couples the right to plan the funerals of their late partners. Carcieri, a Republican, had warned that the bill would erode traditional marriage.
While advocates in Minnesota say they're not pushing to legalize same sex marriage this session, gay couples say that should be the goal.
Some say they'll never have true equality without it.
- All Things Considered, 01/07/2010, 5:54 p.m.