Rhode Island approves funeral rights for gays

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Lawmakers in the US state of Rhode Island have approved a law to allow people in gay relationships to make funeral arrangements for their partners.

The bill was vetoed by Governor Don Carcieri but the House and Senate opted to override him.

Carcieri argued that it was part of a “disturbing trend” to erode traditional marriage. Rhode Island and Maine are the only two New England states which do not allow gay marriage.

The bill had overwhelming support in both houses, passing 67-3 in the House and 31-3 in the Senate.

Although it applies to both gay and heterosexual unmarried couples, gay rights campaigners welcomed it as an important piece of equality legislation.

Those eligible to plan their partner’s burial must be over 18, have been in an exclusive relationship with the deceased for at least one year and be able to show financial dependency, through a joint tenancy or bank account.

The legislation was demanded by Mark Goldberg, 49, who struggled for five weeks for the right to claim the body of his partner of 17 years, Ron Hanby.

The couple had wills and other legal documents as proof of their relationship. Goldberg said he had received “no compassion whatsoever from anyone in the state”.

Kathy J Kushnir, executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island, thanked lawmakers for overriding Carcieri’s veto.

She said: “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.”

“Now, at the worst time 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. It’s what our citizens need and deserve,” Kushnir added.