WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN WHEN YOUR HUSBAND DIES?
By Samuel Leighton-Dore
My mother was 24-years-old when she received a phone-call from police notifying her that her husband of only four months had been killed in a workplace accident. Settling back into work after their honeymoon, the crane he was operating hit overhead power-lines; electrocuting and killing him instantly. Mum was understandably distraught at the news.
However, at the very least she was given the opportunity to mourn the man she lost so unexpectedly: her husband. She was treated with the basic dignity, respect and humanity one should expect. She wasn’t asked to explain or justify the details of their relationship. She wasn’t forced to prove their closeness or level of commitment. She wasn’t made to consult with other family members (though perhaps she chose to) on the countless grievous decisions now staring her in the face.
“Being married, I was the next-of-kin and was given the choice of identifying his body and filling out the appropriate paper work,” she explains.
“It was important for me to dress his body in his going out clothes as his work clothes had been removed during the inquest process. I knew he would want to be buried in the historical cemetery nearby as that was where his twin brother had been buried. My name was put on his death certificate and our marriage, although short, was recognised.”
Basically, as a heterosexual woman, mum’s deep emotional pain wasn’t further aggravated by backhanded legalities, terms and conditions, technicalities, fine-print or discriminative processes. Furthermore, she was made the beneficiary of her husband’s will and helped to settle his estate – a common courtesy many of her LGBTQI counterparts would not have received in the same situation.
“Although I was only 24-years old, I was given the respect and dignity I needed to farewell my husband in a way I thought was best,” Mum reflects.
Tragically, the same cannot be said for British man Marco Bulmer-Rizzi, whose husband, David Bulmer-Rizzi, died on the weekend during the couple’s Australian honeymoon. After five years of dating, the pair had married in Santorini last year – however, their marriage wasn’t legally recognized in South Australia. This meant that Marco was not authorised to make any of the important medical decisions for his husband, and David’s death certificate was listed as “not married”. Adding needless insult to injury, because Australia forms part of the Commonwealth, deaths of UK citizens cannot be registered at the High Commission but must instead use the local death certificate.
“Literally within an hour, I had no choice but to deny that we ever married,” Marco told news.com.au.
“I asked if I could at least leave that part of the death certificate blank, but they said the drop-down box wouldn’t allow it. There was no room for humanity and I think that’s the shocking part. The computer said no.”
Not only do these backward laws completely and unnecessarily undermine a life built, shared and celebrated with love; they exasperate an already impossible process of grieving, complex paperwork, and making international funeral arrangements.
Because if losing a loved one wasn’t already traumatising enough, it can also be a logistical fucking nightmare. First, there’s the sobering task of identifying the body, co-operating with authorities on any possible inquests, and notifying an extensive list of close friends and family. Then there are funeral arrangements to be made, which, of course, entails navigating the complexities of life insurance policies and actually paying for the damn thing. Oh, and somewhere in between you’re expected to start the arduous process of grieving and sleeping and trying your best to stomach small meals without vomiting. To be referred to by local policemen as a “partner” rather than husband – to have your love and lifelong commitment so thoughtlessly dismissed in such incomprehensible circumstances… Well, it’s just fucked.
Enough is enough. Sure – the premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill, has today personally reached out to Marco and apologised. He’s also offered an amended death certificate and promised to introduce a “raft of legislation” to parliament this year. But words alone won’t fix this God-awful embarrassing mess. It’s time we take the preventative action necessary to stop others suffering in the same way Marco Bulmer-Rizzi has. Despite popular opinion, marriage equality is about so much more than confetti, rainbows and honeymooning in Barbados. It’s about setting right the many wrongs of our nation’s past. It’s about giving all people – in all relationships – an even ground on which to walk, dance, trip or fall. While Australia’s federal government continues to fiddle around aimlessly with the pawn-piece of national marriage equality – dangling the carrot, before yanking it away – real people are copping the real consequences. And it’s bullshit.
I mean, fucking hell. Isn’t life hard enough already?