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Rhode Island Governor Vetoes Bill To Let Gay Partners Arrange Each Other's Funerals

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"Quack, quack," goes the lame duck. Donald Carcieri, elected for his unsurpassed avuncularity, is in the death throes of his pathetic governorship of Rhode Island. In an especially violent spasm on Tuesday, he vetoed a bill that would have allowed domestic partners (gay or straight) to claim the body of a deceased partner, and make funeral arrangements therefor.

A persistent foe of civil rights and civil liberties, Carcieri has gone after immigrants (he's not terribly fond of those who've moved here from Latin America, but seems to have a particular disdain for Cambodian and Laotian refugees), Native Americans, and poor people generally. In 2004 he pushed "anti-terrorism" legislation which would have made it illegal to, as the Providence Journal put it at the time:

display foreign flags in a way that suggests other countries are superior to the United States; "speak, utter or print" statements supporting anarchy; or speak in favor of overthrowing the government.

That he has it out for gay people is unsurprising, but his detest for them seems to have peaked in the last year or so. Since spring, and until last week's regression by Maine, Rhode Island was conspicuously the only New England state to bar gay marriage. The governor has dug in his heels, recently keynoting a fundraiser for the so-called Massachusetts Family Institute, whose ethos is as such:

MFI does not consider homosexual behavior to be merely an alternate lifestyle or sexual "preference"; it is an unhealthy practice and destructive to individuals, families and society. Our compassion for those plagued by same-sex attraction compels us to support the healing of those who wish to change their behavior. MFI strongly opposes any efforts by political activists to normalize homosexual behavior and all attempts to equate homosexuality with benign characteristics such as skin color, or the "gay rights" movement with the civil rights movement.

Today he meets with local gay activists to explain why he insisted on visiting with such bigots. The timing couldn't be better, for on Tuesday he issued that cruel veto of legislation borne of a tragedy which befell a constituent of mine, whose partner of nearly two decades committed suicide in the summer of 2008. For on the order of a month, Mark Goldberg was unable to to claim the body of his partner -- who didn't even have any other next of kin.

Mark deserves credit for trying to use his personal misfortune to better the lives of others, while poised to see no personal reward. (If we dare be so crass as to call the simple right to bury or cremate a loved one's remains a "reward.") The legislation passed overwhelmingly: 63-1 in the House, and 35-0 in the Senate, with even the fiercest opponents of gay marriage understanding that to support the bill was but to affirm a basic human decency. But Carcieri didn't see it that way, asserting, "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."

Additionally, according to the Providence Journal:

He took issue with the definition of a domestic partner as "a person who, prior to the decedent's death, was in an exclusive, intimate and committed relationship with the decedent" for at least a year, saying a year "is not a sufficient duration to establish a serious bond between two individuals ... [relative to] issues regarding funeral arrangements, burial rights and disposal of human remains."

The backlash has been encouragingly sharp and robust, with news of the veto dominating the local media and garnering national attention, and with more than 83% of respondents to the Providence Journal's online poll opposing Carcieri's action: The good people of Rhode Island are far more empathetic than the heartless governor whom they've twice ushered into office.

Thankfully, gay marriage is on the horizon in Rhode Island: Carcieri's obstinacy has made for an insurmountable hurdle at present, but all of the major candidates who vie to succeed him come January 2011 are supportive of gay marriage. The Democrat-dominated Assembly will likely oblige them. As sad and disconcerting as the governor's action was, its extremity may help our cause, as moderates seek to distance themselves from the dark core of bigotry that binds together much of the anti-gay rights movement, underscored this week by Donald Carcieri's veto pen.

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