by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
Rhode Island lawmakers and members of the General Assembly overrode a veto by Governor Don Carcieri on January 5, to approve a bill that allows LGBT couples the same rights to plan the funerals of their deceased partners as married couples.
The legislators overwhelmingly approved the bill in November of 2009, with only three members of each chamber voting against the measure. Governor Carcieri, a Republican, vetoed the bill saying the legislation would erode heterosexual marriage.
"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," the governor said in a letter to lawmakers last November. "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."
Many LGBT community activists and Rhode Island legislators were appalled by the governor's veto.
"I opposed the veto from the moment it left the governor's desk. In November, I wrote the House and Senate leadership, urging their override of the veto. Later that month, I attended and addressed the candlelight vigil at the State House protesting the veto," said Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth H. Roberts. "Today I thank the assembly for reversing the decision to undo the legislation."
Roberts says that although she has long been a supporter of the right of same-sex couples to marry, this legislation is not about the issue of Gay marriage.
"This legislation honors the fundamental right in our society to grieve for the loss of a loved one in a way that matches personal beliefs and honors the deceased," she said.
Kathy J. Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, echoed the sentiment, saying, "On behalf of the board and tens of thousands of statewide supporters of equal civil marriage rights, we are thrilled that the legislature overrode the governor's mean-spirited veto of the funeral arrangements legislation and restored some measure of dignity and respect to LGBT Rhode Islanders."
Kushnir said that now, at one of the worst times of their lives, people won't have to fight simply to lay their loved ones to rest.
"We urge the legislature to embrace full equality for all Rhode Islanders by passing marriage equality legislation this year, unafraid of another gubernatorial veto," she said. "It's what our citizens need and deserve."
Carcieri, who will be term-limited out of office next year, remains a major obstacle to passing a Gay marriage bill in Rhode Island. The governor has stated he would back an effort to place a Gay marriage ban in the Rhode Island Constitution. Carcieri and his wife, Sue, are members of the National Organization for Marriage, the nation's most vocal opponent of Gay marriage.
In New England, Rhode Island is the only state that does not recognize Gay unions. Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut have legalized same-sex marriage. Maine offers limited domestic partnership for Gay couples.
Under the new Rhode Island law, a couple must be at least 18, have lived together for one year and prove they were financially dependent to qualify for the funeral planning rights.
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