Death + the Law Death Ethics

Governor of MN to Gays and Lesbians: You Cannot Claim Your Partner’s Corpse

Pawlenty Vows Veto of Same-Sex Measure
Jason Hoppin, Pioneer Press (May 13, 2010)

Oh Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota. I know that you think you’ve got a chance at the 2012 Republican Presidential ticket but, alas, you’ll be disappointed. In all honesty, I don’t know who will be the GOP candidate but it won’t be you, that much I know. So instead of helping gay and lesbian Minnesotans in committed, long term relationships cope with a partner’s death you go ahead and veto a completely practical, sensible bill.

I am referring here to Minnesota Senate Bill No. 341 which, among other things, would allow same-sex domestic partners to claim their dead partner’s body in order to make funeral arrangements. Here is the bill’s language:

Subd. 2. Determination of right to control and duty of disposition.
(a) The right to control the disposition of the remains of a deceased person, including the location and conditions of final disposition, unless other directions have been given by the decedent pursuant to subdivision 1, vests in, and the duty of final disposition of the body devolves upon, the following in the order of priority listed:

The list includes 1.) Wills and Legal Instruments 2.) Spouses 3.) Domestic Partners and other groups such as children. It is the third group, domestic partners, which Bill 341 added and it is the reason Governor Pawlenty (by his own admission) vetoed it. Pawlenty’s rationale was that since same-sex couples can establish Wills or Health Directives in which a same-sex partner is named as the sole decision maker then the law was unnecessary.

In a sense Governor Pawlenty is correct but only so far as this means same-sex couples have to jump through a hoop that married straight couples do not. Furthermore, this law would have made the entire funeral arrangement process and final disposition of the dead body a lot simpler. As the law currently stands in Minnesota, any same-sex couple without explicit legal documents stating the couples’ final disposition wishes faces a potential legal challenge from next of kin. If the family of a gay man or lesbian woman does not like or even acknowledge the same-sex partner then that person can be legally excluded from the entire funeral.

This is a situation that funeral directors confronted quite a bit during the 1980s and 1990s, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. It’s a terrible scenario in which the body in the casket can literally become a dividing line. The Minnesota Senate Bill would have gone a long way towards simplifying how same-sex couples can claim their deceased partner’s body.

One day, and it will be in my own lifetime, these legal forms of discrimination and the individuals who supported them will look absolutely barbaric. This much I also know.

So there you go Governor Pawlenty. You’re not going to get the GOP nomination and you’re acting like a completely intolerant, insensitive brute. But at least you’re in good company: the Governor of Rhode Island did the same exact thing last November and he too will never be President of the United States of America.

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