Peter Boisclair came out as gay during his freshman year at Northland College, in Ashland, WI, and he’s focused his advocacy efforts on LGBT issues ever since. Last Tuesday, he urged the Hopkins City Council to adopt a domestic partner registry that would allow unmarried couples to certify their relationships with the city.
“Hopkins has a spirit of community and standing up for people’s rights in the past,” Boisclair said. “(This ordinance) is a huge stand for support for civil rights in Hopkins.”
Minneapolis became the first city in the state to pass a domestic partnership ordinance in 1991, but the idea saw little support elsewhere in the state for nearly two decades.
Over the past couple years, though, communities have adopted registries at a more rapid pace. The total now stands at 11, and most of Hopkins’ neighbors have one.
If passed, both same-sex and opposite sex couples who either live or work in Hopkins would be able to register their relationship. Supporters say such registration would make it easier for unmarried couples to obtain hospital visitation rights and obtain benefits from employers that offer domestic partner benefits.
But such domestic registries are perhaps mostly a symbolic vote in support of same-sex marriage while actual marriage remains off the table for gay and lesbian couples.
Even without the registry, employers that offer domestic partner benefits have a variety of options for allowing partners to demonstrate they’re together, said Monica Meyer—executive director of OutFront Minnesota, an organization that advocates for LGBT friendly policies. These options range from simply writing the partner’s name on a form to showing proof of a joint bank account or shared living arrangements.
Still, domestic registries are a meaningful way for couples to make their togetherness official, she said.
“People frame their certificates,” Meyer said. “In a state where this is the only legal recognition you can get, it’s really important to show that.”
That symbolism entwines domestic registries with the larger debate over gay marriage—a debate that will only grow as we approach the 2012 vote on a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to heterosexual couples.
Tom Prichard—president of the Minnesota Family Council, which supports the amendment—said domestic partner registries are a “PR stunt” without the force of law. Unmarried couple can already designate who they want to visit them in the hospital. Prichard also noted, like Meyer, that there are other ways for employers to verify domestic partner status for the purpose of benefits.
The real goal of such registries is to inch the state further toward gay marriage, Prichard argues. And he contends domestic partnerships “undermine marriage” while discriminating against other caring relationships that aren’t sexual—such as two adult siblings or a person caring for someone who’s disabled.
“(Domestic partnership registries) try to create a perception in the public that there’s support for redefining marriage,” Prichard said. “This is all the more reason we need a marriage amendment.”
Countered Meyer: “In the midst of all the negative things being said, I think this has just become a way for our cities to step forward and say, ‘We’re for all families.’”
Boisclair plans to discuss the domestic partner registry in further detail at an upcoming City Council work session. He’s pushing to have it completed before he returns to school Sept. 6.
“The truth is it has nothing to do with partisan beliefs or religion,” Boisclair said. “It has to do with civil rights.”
Minnesota cities with domestic partner registries (in order of adoption)
- Minneapolis (1991)
- Duluth (2009)
- St. Paul (2009)
- Edina (2010)
- Rochester (2010)
- Maplewood (2010)
- Golden Valley (2010)
- St. Louis Park (2011)
- Richfield (2011)
- Red Wing (2011)
- Robbinsdale (2011)