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MPR’s Rupa Shenoy reports on advocates push for more end-of-life rights for domestic partners. A 2009 bill that would have protected the rights of surviving members of domestic partnerships to make end-of-life decisions did not pass before the legislative session ended, but advocates hope state lawmakers will support it when they return to the capitol.


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RUPA SHENOY: Kathy Krogan and Kathy Robbins have been together for nearly three decades. Krogan says they try to always carry documents proving one partner can make health decisions for the other.

KATHY KROGAN: If I step forward and say, well, this is my life partner, and I know what she wants, that has no bearing. I need to have that document in my hand to be assured that what we want to happen will, in fact, happen.

RUPA SHENOY: The couple is meticulous about keeping their power of attorney paperwork and health care directives up to date. A health care directive allows a person to designate someone else who can make decisions for them.

KATHY KROGAN: Every few years, we go back and take another look at them and we ask ourselves, is this enough? Are we really protected? And so then we find ourselves going to see a new attorney and often then revising documents accordingly.

RUPA SHENOY: Things can still go wrong, even when couples take the right steps. Tim Reardon and Eric Mann thought they had done everything possible to make sure they can make decisions for each other. But after Mann died from a brain tumor three years ago, the medical examiner's office called Mann's parents, not Reardon. So Reardon went to the office armed with a bundle of legal documents. He says, fortunately, Mann's parents supported his decisions.

TIM REARDON: The medical examiner's office agreed to allow me to sign only after they relinquished their rights. I was very upset, very angry. We had done everything we were told to do legally, and in the end, it wasn't enough.

RUPA SHENOY: Reardon's case led to end-of-life legislation that was approved by the DFL controlled state Senate in the last session. The Bill would give surviving domestic partners the right to make choices about their loved one's remains. It would also give partners the right to sue for compensation in cases of wrongful death. An organization called Project 515 wrote the Bill. Its executive director, Laura Smieszek, says they tried to steer clear of the same-sex marriage issue.

LAURA SMIESZEK: I would much rather have these laws than worry about the argument today, about whether we should have the right to marry or not. But, as long as we throw a marriage in there, then we often lose people's ear to even learn about what discrimination really looks like.

RUPA SHENOY: The legislation didn't pass the State House in the last session, but if approved this year, the legislation will go to Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty's desk for approval. Pawlenty's office didn't respond to requests for comment, but the governor's recent remarks don't bode well for the Bill's supporters. Last month, Pawlenty told Newsweek Magazine, a Minnesota law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation is overly broad.

Pawlenty voted for the law as a state legislator in 1993. Now, he says it should be changed. Tom Pritchard of the Minnesota Family Council, expects Pawlenty to veto the end of life legislation if it lands on his desk. Pritchard opposes the legislation and thinks it's a step toward marriage rights for same-sex couples.

TOM PRITCHARD: I think if two individuals care for one another, I mean, there are legal options now, and there's alternatives which have been proposed. But when you limit it just to domestic partners, gay lesbian couples, then you're trying to replicate, the unique relationship of marriage, and we just think that's the wrong way for society to go.

RUPA SHENOY: End-of-life legislation is gaining ground in some other states. Legislators in Rhode Island this week voted to allow same-sex couples the right to plan the funerals of their late partners, overriding a veto by the governor, who warned it eroded traditional marriage. While advocates here say they're not pushing to legalize same-sex marriage this session, gay couples say that should be the goal. Some say they'll never have true equality without it. Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio News.

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