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Project 515 Proposes Legislation to Ensure Equality During Times of Illness and Death
Date:1/22/2009

ST. PAUL, Minn., Jan. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- Project 515 is proposing legislation to ensure equal and fair treatment for all Minnesota families that are experiencing severe health issues and the death of a loved one.

Project 515's legislative proposal, discussed at a Capitol news conference today, will provide committed same-sex couples the same right as married couples to:

    -- Honor the final wishes of their partners
    -- Preserve their homes for their families
    -- Seek justice after a wrongful death

"Most Minnesotans from across the state expect our laws to treat people equally, yet 515 of our laws fall short," said Senator Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL, Duluth), who will author a Final Wishes Bill in the Minnesota Senate. "Changes to current state law are necessary to ensure equal and fair treatment for all Minnesota families."

Representative Erin Murphy (DFL, St. Paul), who will author a Final Wishes Bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives, said, "This proposed legislation focuses on real issues that affect Minnesota families every day. Particularly at a time when all families are struggling, our laws should not unduly add stress, financial hardship or even homelessness to the problems families face."

The Final Wishes proposal will provide Minnesotans equal opportunities to honor the final wishes of their partners. Under current law, committed, same-sex partners do not have the automatic right that married couples have to control the remains of their partner after death. This means surviving partners may not be able to carry out their loved one's wishes for cremation or burial. Costly legal documents may fail to guarantee this right and are sometimes ignored. The legislative proposal will change the law's language to include same-sex partners, eliminating the need for costly and ineffective legal documents to ensure the right to honor a partner's final wishes.

Tim Reardon knows the pain and difficulty of discrimination first-hand. He and his long-time partner Eric had developed health care directives and other legal documents to protect their relationship and their daughter. Eric was later diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. It was only after Eric's death that gaps in the documents became painfully apparent. Though documents showed Tim as Eric's next of kin, the medical examiner and cremation society could not recognize Tim as such, due to an error on the forms.

"This was the most vulnerable time of my family's life. Yet my partner's wishes meant nothing," Reardon said. "I felt so betrayed and angry that our relationship would not be acknowledged."

Project 515 also highlighted two other legislative proposals today:

-- Preserving one's home -- During times of extreme illness, the state may step in to help a patient pay for needed medical care once the patient's own resources are exhausted. In return, the state may place a lien on the patient's home to recoup expenses. State law prohibits the enforcement of the lien until after the patient's surviving spouse also dies. However, a surviving same-sex partner does not have an equal right. Project 515's proposal will allow same-sex partners and their families to stay in their homes following the death of a loved one.

-- Seeking justice after a wrongful death -- If a spouse is wrongfully killed, such as in a car accident, the surviving spouse may sue the person responsible to recover medical or funeral expenses. Same-sex partners do not have the same right and instead must cover expenses on their own. Project 515 proposes changing the law's language to provide same-sex couples the same right to recover the costs of a wrongful death.

A statewide survey conducted by Decision Resources, a leading Minnesota polling firm, found that Minnesotans value fairness and equality. Eight out of 10 Minnesotans believe the government should not treat people differently because of their sexual orientation, the survey reported. Nearly 70 percent believe "gays and lesbians should have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else."

Yet, a Project 515 study of all Minnesota statutes shows at least 515 current Minnesota laws discriminate against same-sex couples and their families.

"As we've traveled across the state, we've heard Minnesotans from both sides of the political aisle say that fairness and equality under the law are critical," said Laura Smidzik, executive director of Project 515. "Minnesota families need to know that our laws will treat them fairly, especially during times of sadness and mourning. Pursuing revisions to some of the 515 laws that discriminate will help us build stronger families and households in our state."

About Project 515: Project 515 is a Minnesota non-profit organization working to ensure that same-sex couples and their families have equal rights and considerations under Minnesota law. There are at least 515 current state laws that discriminate against same-sex couples and their families. For more information, visit http://www.project515.org.


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SOURCE Project 515
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