by Beth Shapiro, New York Bureau 

(New York City) New York State Gov. George Pataki has signed into law legislation that provides domestic partners, both same-sex and opposite-sex, the ability to make decisions about the funerals of partners.

(cross posted at Booman Tribune, My Left Wing,Refinish69)

Terry Checksfield of Phoenix, NY, who lost her partner of 28 years Barbara Blake to cancer in 2004 and then had Blake’s body taken from her by Blake’s estranged family, expressed relief.

“I am so thankful our government has finally done something about this. After I lost Barbara, I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral and still can’t visit her grave. No one should ever have to go through what I went through. Now no one will.”

The new law will allow New Yorkers to designate a person to carry out their wishes for the disposition of their body after they die. Additionally, it extends domestic partners the same priority status in decision making as surviving married spouses.

“For too long in New York, same-sex partners who live together and care for each other have been legal strangers when one of them dies,” said Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, New York’s statewide LGBT civil rights organization.

The ‘death care proxy’ is a simple, free, proxy form authorizing the appointment of an agent and has space for special directions. It must be signed in front of two witnesses. In instances where no one has been designated, a priority list of persons, including domestic partners, are established in statute to determine who has the right to control the disposition of an individual’s remains.

“Over the years, many people have come to GMHC having severe difficulty with end of life planning issues.  Until this law, no legal mechanism existed to ensure their wishes are followed.  This will have tremendous impact for our community,” said Ana Oliveira, Executive Director of Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

The legislation received bipartisan support in the legislature last year. (story)

Meanwhile, the issue of  legalizing same-sex marriage in New York is before the courts.

Not all news is bad news for the GLBT Community.  As more and more people stand up for their rights and talk with family & friends, certain states & legislatures are realizing there is a legitimate need for protection under the law.  To the activist & the rest of the community< I say keep up the hard work, talking to everyone, writing those letters to the editor, and keep pushing equal protection under the law forward.

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