The Rhode Island legislature overrode the governor's veto to pass a bill to allow gay and straight unmarried partners to plan their partners' funerals in the case of death. I blogged about the governor's veto of this bill last November under the title "Everything is not marriage," because the governor cited the slippery slope to same-sex marriage as a reason to reject the bill.
While everyone is focusing on the same-sex couples that the bill will help, it applies to straight couples as well who might not marry for whatever reason. Elderly straight couples often don't marry so that they don't lose their deceased spouses' pensions and Social Security, younger couples are waiting longer and longer to get married (the bill applies to couples who have been together for at least a year, which isn't enough time for many straight people to get married), and lots of people just avoid the whole institution because of all the baggage that comes with being married.
This is "beyond marriage" win - it takes a right associated with marriage and opens it up to all relationships or the population as a whole. If we're saying we want to get married for the all the rights associated with the institution, another solution to being excluded from marriage is to just stop associating those rights with the institution.
The Providence Journal describes how a gay man whose partner died led to this bill being passed:
Mark Goldberg, 49, pushed for the legislation after struggling for five weeks to claim the body of his partner of 17 years, Ron Hanby, who committed suicide in October 2008. The state medical examiner would not release Hanby's body to Goldberg because they were not married or relatives, even though the couple had wills and other legal documents attesting to their relationship.
"Not being able to claim his body was certainly something that was beyond belief, was beyond human compassion from anyone," Goldberg said. "There was just no compassion whatsoever from anyone in the state."
The governor, in his veto message last November, said:
In his veto message, Republican Carcieri said: "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.
Only losers don't marry before they die, and, if they don't, they don't have a right to have people who would best know their desires make arrangements. This'll teach people to die unmarried.
Everything is not marriage, and this bill doesn't allow the gays to marry any more than unmarried people being allowed to live together is an "erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage." The rights associated with marriage should be removed from that institution because the way people live their lives is different today than it was half a century ago.
So congrats to the activists who worked on this, and hopefully it'll keep the state from adding insult to injury during a terrible time in people's lives.