Rhode Island General Assembly > Press Releases -- Feb. 2, 2010
Assembly overrides veto of domestic partners’ funeral rights
STATE HOUSE – Overriding the governor’s veto, the General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Rhoda E. Perry and Rep. David A. Segal to provide domestic partners with the right to make funeral arrangements for their partners.
“Today we’re standing on the side of compassion. This veto was a heartless act against many Rhode Islanders – people who already suffer frequent discrimination and who are grieving the loss of a loved one. With this vote, we’re saying that we believe that everyone deserves the right to carry out the final wishes of his or her partner. Our state will not be in the business of discriminating against people in their time of mourning, nor making the death of a person’s partner even worse with unnecessary and unfair bureaucracy,” said Sen. Rhoda E. Perry (D-Dist. 3, Providence.)
The legislation (2009-H 5294 and 2009-S 0195B), which is effective immediately, amends the chapter of law detailing the people who can legally make arrangements for a deceased person’s funeral, cremation or burial to include domestic partners if the deceased person left no pre-arranged funeral contract. It would list the “surviving spouse or domestic partner” first among those whose wishes take legal priority in the arrangements.
The legislation defines a domestic partner as someone who was in an “exclusive, intimate and committed relationship” with the deceased and had lived with him or her for at least a year prior to the death; is at least 18, not married to anyone else and not related by blood; and who was financially interdependent with the deceased through a domestic partnership contract, joint ownership or a joint mortgage on the couple’s home, a designation as the beneficiary of the deceased life insurance or retirement contract, or a combination of joint contracts such as credit cards, leases and bank accounts.
The legislation is designed to provide rights to domestic partners regardless of whether they are of the same or opposite sexes.
The sponsors said they introduced the legislation because funeral arrangements are frequently a source of agony for grieving families due to the current law’s exclusion of domestic partners in funeral rights, both for couples of the opposite gender and same-sex couples. The situation was brought to their attention by a constituent whose late partner’s body was kept by the medical examiner’s office for four weeks while the office fruitlessly searched for a legal next-of-kin. The man, whose partner of 17 years had committed suicide after a lifelong battle with depression, said the office refused to review living wills, power of attorney documents and other documentation, and he felt treated as though he had no rights at a time when he was mourning the painful loss of his partner.
“Our laws can’t just pretend domestic partners don’t exist. They are a part of many families, and to ignore them is to leave grieving people in a very ambiguous and unfair situation that unnecessarily adds to their pain,” said Representative Segal (D-Dist. 2, Providence, East Providence). “The governor said he vetoed this bill because of his own opposition to same-sex marriage rights, and his fear that this might somehow incrementally lead to their enactment. Punishing grieving families is a cruel means for him to use to push his political agenda. I’m relieved that the General Assembly will not be a party to that effort, and that domestic partners of any orientation will be able to make funeral arrangements and grieve in peace, without interference from the state.”
For more information, contact: Meredyth R. Waterman, Publicist State House Room 20 Providence, RI 02903 (401) 222-2457