Redefining Domestic Partnerships and Funeral Arrangements in Rhode Island

Governor Donald Carcieri

Governor Donald Carcieri

The latest in deathcare news came today from Rhode Island, as that state’s Governor Don Carcieri vetoed a bill that would allow gays and lesbians in his state to plan funeral arrangements for their deceased partners. According to Governor Carcieri’s response [PDF] to that bill, he equated death care to marriage when he stated:

“…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 partnership, it should place the issue on the ballot and let the people of the State of Rhode Island decide.”

The bill in question for Governor Carcieri is 2009 S 0195 [PDF], an Act Relation to Businesses and Professions – Funeral Director/Embalmer Funeral Service Establishments, introduced by Senators Perry, Jabour, Miller, C Levesque and Pichardo. The bill, introduced in February this year, addresses domestic partners without stating sexual preferences of those partners. Instead, the definition is presented as:

…a person who, prior to the decedent’s death, was in an exclusive, intimate and committed relationship with the decedent, and who certifies by affidavit that their relationship met the following qualifications:

  1. Both partners were at least eighteen (18) years of age and were mentally competent to contract;
  2. Neither partner is married to anyone else;
  3. Partners were not related by blood to a degree which would prohibit marriage in the state of Rhode Island;
  4. Partners resided together and had resided together for at least one year at the time of death; and
  5. Partners were financially interdependent as evidenced by at least two (2) of the following:
    1. Domestic partnership agreement or relationship contract;
    2. Joint mortgage or joint ownership of primary residence;
    3. Two (2) of the following:
      • Joint ownership of motor vehicle;
      • Joint checking account;
      • Joint credit account;
      • Joint lease; and/or
        • The domestic partner had been designated as a beneficiary for the decedent’s will, retirement contract or life insurance.

How the governor read “gay” or “lesbian” into this agreement is bewildering, as our first thoughts were that many straight couples cannot meet the requirements for this agreement if they are residing together in a domestic partnership without marriage. But, he did, and his take on this definition for domestic partnerships reads:

“Notwithstanding the fact that there are a number of other sections in the Rhode Island General Laws that define a domestic partnership in the same manner, I believe the standard set forth deserves reconsideration by the General Assembly…A one (1) year time period for any relationship is not a sufficient length of duration to establish a serious, lasting bond between two (2) individuals to supplant the surviving individual over traditional family members relative to the sensitive personal traditions and issues regarding funeral arrangement, burial rights, and disposal of human remains. Many casual relationships last for longer than a year.”

While the Gay Rights blog at Change.org is in an uproar over this veto, heterosexual couples might take notice of this veto as well. While you may be residing in domestic partnership bliss, unknown circumstances can alter your lives forever. One way to avoid government interference into your funeral plans and to take care of your loved ones at the same time is to plan ahead for your funeral arrangements.

By planning ahead, you – and you alone – have control over your funeral options.

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