Minnesota to recognize same-sex couples unless Pawlenty vetoes
May 12th, 2010
Today the Minnesota legislature took a very small step and crossed a very great divide: they went from being a state that sees same-sex couples as two distinct individuals who are legal strangers without any formal relationship to being a state that recognizes, in at least some small way, that same-sex couples are a unit, two people who have emotional, financial, and legal connections. (Star Tribune)
Domestic partners would have the right to determine what happens with the remains of a deceased partner under a bill passed by the Minnesota House on Tuesday.
The “Final Wishes” bill defines domestic partners and gives them decision-making power ahead of children, siblings and parents after a partner’s death.
The measure would also give domestic partners the right to sue for damages in cases of wrongful death.
This may seem like a small portion of equality, hardly worth getting excited over. But this is a tremendous step, one that impacts far more than those couples who can now breath a sigh of relief that the decisions surrounding their final rest can be made by the one who knows and loves them best. Because this bill defines domestic partners.
The real battle for equality is over whether gay people and gay couples exist.
You’d think that would be a given. Everyone knows – on some level – that gay folks exist and that some of them form couples. Yet that is the point most hotly debated by anti-gay activists and most ardently denied by anti-gay politicians.
All of the anti-gay rhetoric that we hear about “there is no gay gene” and “no one is born gay” and “there is no such thing as sexual orientation” and “change is possible” all seek to deny the existence of gay people. These claims all seek to advance the notion that those who identify as gay are just “heterosexuals with a homosexual problem” or are “heterosexuals who struggle with same-sex attractions.”
Because once you acknowledge that gay people exist – real gay people and not just flawed heterosexuals who engage in homosexual behavior – then you have changed the power dynamic in the debate. If gay people exist, the question is no longer over what will be allowed for people who do, but becomes a debate over what rights exist for people who are. No longer can discrimination be dismissed by, “well if they just wouldn’t do that”; and now rights are presumed to exist and any denial must be justified and explained.
And the same is true of couples. Once you acknowledge that same-sex couples exist, then each denied right demands an explanation.
Instead of needing to justify each additional equality, the question is why it should not be provided. Once a state has defined what a domestic partnership is, then it must explain why such a unit should be treated differently from other units.
Why should gay couples not be treated like straight couples when using a state park? Why should they be denied hospital visitation? Why should they pay different taxes?
And this is why anti-gay Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is expected to veto the bill. He probably doesn’t much care who makes cremation decisions. I doubt he is concerned over who gets to sue for wrongful death. But he very much fears the idea that the State of Minnesota could acknowledge that same-sex couples, families, domestic partners exist.
The bill faces a likely veto by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, however. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said it is unnecessary because people can already designate whomever they want to make such decisions. It “seems to be a political exercise to get the term ‘domestic partner’ into state law,” McClung added.
Unfortunately for Gov. Pawlenty, the culture has already accepted the existence of gay couples. And in time, if not already, Minnesotans will see the denial of small personal dignities like death decisions to be cruel, bigoted and hateful.