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Injustice in Minnesota

May 18, 2010

Though I have never been there, the Land of 10,000 Lakes holds a special place in my mind. Any state that churns out Bob Dylan, Prince, and the Mississippi River must be imbued with some kind of magical gifts. Or maybe not, but everyone I’ve met from there has been pretty cool, and it’s a pretty blue island afloat in a red, red sea.

Because of the state’s liberal tendencies, it was unsurprising to learn that both houses of the Minnesota legislature passed a bill that would have given gays a few of the rights that the rest of us enjoy. Most importantly, it allowed for a gay partner to make burial provisions upon the death of his or her loved one.

It also allowed partners to bring wrongful death suits before Minnesota courts. Without this bill, gays were denied the right available to the rest of us to sue for restitution when our loved one is killed in a car accident. The bill granted gays some rights that have been available to the rest of us forever.

Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed the bill, saying that it “addresses a nonexistent problem.” If gay people simply create wills that specify their wishes, their bodies can be left in the care of their partners.

This is a facile cover for bigotry and a total non sequitur. The point of the bill is to improve the laws of intestacy (laws that deal with the estates of people who die without wills). Depending on whose estimate you accept, 55-70% of people die intestate. When heterosexuals die intestate, their spouses enjoy all sorts of rights by operation of law that are unavailable to gays in the absence of special legal documents. This bill would even the playing field for homosexuals who die intestate, but Pawlenty believes that the law’s current severity is just ducky.

As for the wrongful death component: Pawlenty’s letter to the President of the Senate indicates that the criteria for determining if a gay partner has the right to bring such a case are too complicated for a court to figure out. Here on planet earth, courts make decisions about relationships all the time, whether it’s in criminal conspiracy trials or child custody hearings. In Pawlentyville, that must not be the case.

It doesn’t take any keen inferential powers to see that Pawlenty thinks gays don’t deserve rights that the rest of us enjoy; he says in his letter that “marriage – as defined between a man and a woman – should remain elevated in our society at a special level, as it traditionally has been.” What keeps it elevated? Clearly the rights that go along with marriage. Rights that Pawlenty is thrilled to deny people whose behavior annoys him.

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