Registry, open to heterosexual and gay couples, offers no new legal rights, poses risks for those in military, foreign citizens
LAWRENCE, Kan. The state’s first domestic partnership registry went into effect Wednesday, Aug.1, allowing same-sex couples living in this city to register in a state where voters rewrote the constitution two years ago to ban gay marriages.
Four couples registered online by 9:30 a.m. CDT. Within two weeks, they should receive a city-issued certificate declaring they plan to “live together in a relationship of indefinite duration” and will “share the necessities of life.”
They’ll also receive two wallet-sized cards, one for each partner.
But City Clerk Frank Reeb said the registry, which also is open to unmarried heterosexual couples, doesn’t mean those signing up will enjoy any new legal rights. He said 40 to 50 couples are expected to register either in person or online.
“On the online registry, we ask them to acknowledge that this creates no legal rights for them other than they will be in the city registry as domestic partners,” Reeb said.
Lori Messinger, a board member of the Lawrence-Douglas County chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said the registry will make it easier for domestic partners to qualify for health insurance and other benefits from employers. More than half of the Fortune 500 companies extend some type of partner benefits.
Companies extending such benefits often accept registration as proof of an ongoing relationship and require more detailed documentation without it.
“It shows a sign of ongoing commitment that insurance companies will accept,” Messinger said.
The City Commission approved the registry in June, setting the cost to register at $75, which Messinger said may be the highest in the nation. She said the national average is from $25 to $35, while registry in Kansas City, Mo., is free, and in St. Louis it is $10.
“I don’t get the impression from the commission that it is an effort to discourage people from registering, but I am a little worried that it will have that effect because $75 is a lot of money to a lot of people,” she said.
Reeb said the cost covers the expenses of creating and maintaining the registry.
“We believe the fee is consistent with the direction we received from the commission to make it a cost-neutral program,” he said.
To register, couples must declare that neither person is married or has another domestic partner and that the two aren’t so closely related by blood that state law wouldn’t permit them to marry. Also, if one partner dies, or the partnership is dissolved, the city must be notified within 90 days.
There are some downsides for those in the military and foreign nationals, said Lara Schwartz, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington.
She said many visas require foreign citizens to say they don’t plan to stay in the United States, and signing a registry could cause immigration officials to doubt that.
Federal law allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they keep their sexual orientation private but requires them to be discharged for acknowledging they are gay. Domestic partnership registries are public documents.
“If you go and make a public declaration of your relationship with a person of the same sex, that is a de facto statement,” Schwartz said. “So you put yourself at risk.”
She said domestic partner registries are increasing as more states and municipalities create them.
“You have something that was next to nothing just at the end of the last century, and it has gone to all these states and localities now,” Schwartz said.
HRC statistics show California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have approved either civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. Kansas is among some 20 states where cities and counties have enacted registries.
Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples. Massachusetts is the only state that recognizes same-sex marriages for its residents.
In 2005, Kansas became the 18th state to rewrite its constitution to ban gay marriage. The constitutional amendment also prevents the state from recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples, limiting marriage to being between one man and one woman.
The amendment passed with 70 percent of the vote, winning in all 105 counties except Douglas.
Some in the Legislature, including Rep. Lance Kinzer, want to outlaw domestic partner registries. Efforts by the Olathe Republican failed, but he is expected to try again next year.
Attorney General Paul Morrison said in April the registry wouldn’t violate the marriage amendment. He also suggested limiting the registry to Lawrence residents, saying it would be easier to defend because the city couldn’t be accused of trying to extend its home-rule power beyond its borders.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 3, 2007