Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lawrence may become the first city in Kansas to register same-sex partners

[updated 10 a.m. 12/23/06]

By Diane Silver

I knew this was brewing, but I've waited until it became public to post about it. The Lawrence Chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition is working to make our town the first city in Kansas to create a domestic partner registry.

If approved, the proposal would add the home of the University of Kansas to Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis; Iowa City, Iowa; and about 72 other governments that have created registries.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports:

City Commissioner Mike Rundle has asked staff members to research an ordinance that would create a domestic partnership registry that would be run by the city.

A constitutional amendment approved by Kansas voters nearly two years ago outlaws gay marriage in the state. The domestic partnership registry would not automatically grant the legal rights that married couples have to gay or lesbian couples. But it would serve as a legal recognition of a couple's relationship.

"It would indicate that the city is welcoming and supportive of its gay community members," said Maggie Childs, who heads the Lawrence chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition, which asked Rundle to seek the registry. "In my mind, the primary benefit is symbolic."

The constitutional amendment did more than just outlaw marriage for same-sex couples. It also banned any form of civil union or any kind of individual legal right that might look like marriage. Because a registry would not confer legal rights, though, it should still be constitutional.

The Journal-World provided some examples of how a registry could work and talked to officials in Iowa City, which has had a registry since 1994.

Despite its symbolic nature, a partnership registry is important. As Maggie said, it tells lesbians and gays that they are welcome in Lawrence, but a registry can also help out our families in concrete ways.

When my life partner died of breast cancer in 1993, our son was 7 years old, and I had a ton of bills. Proving that my late partner had actually been my partner was a constant struggle that had both emotional and financial consequences.

I had to argue with the newspaper about being listed as her partner. (The obituary writer asked: How could he know I was telling the truth?)

I had to argue with the state to get more copies of her death certificate when I needed them to settle her estate. (The clerk asked: Could I prove I was her partner?)

I had to argue with the insurance company that didn't want to honor my late partner's wishes. (The company official said: You're just a housekeeper who took care of a dying woman, and now you're trying to get all her money. Prove that you are who you say you are.)

If there is no public record of a relationship, how do you prove what you were to each other?

I was lucky. I was able to win those fights and other battles with the help of a good attorney, a bank manager and a handful of newspaper clippings where we were interviewed as a couple.

You shouldn't have to be in the newspaper or have the money to hire an attorney to prove that a life-long, loving commitment actually existed.

A domestic partner registry would certainly have helped me then, and it would help lesbians and gays now.

If you would like to part of this effort, please join the Lawrence Chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition or make a donation online.


Mike said...

Hopefully this will pass easily, maybe even unanimously at the City Commission...and if the right wingers try to force a public vote, bring it on because we would win! I blogged about this the other day...

Diane Silver said...


You most definitely get the award for posting about this first. Many thanks for the post. Although I tend to be more cautious politically about this than you are, you do make some good points.

Johnson County Elections said...

The registry would be symbolic at most and would be in violation of the Kansas constitution passed in April 2005 and would not hold up to a legal challenge. It states, "No relationship other than a marriage shall be recognized by the state as entitling the parties to the rights or incidents of marriage."
Nice try though.

Diane Silver said...

As I understand it, attorneys have looked at the registry idea and do think that it works, even under the constitutional amendment. That might be because a registry does not entitle "parties to the rights or incidents of marriage."

But then again, such a determination would have to be made by a court. Actually, the entire idea of "rights or incidents of marriage" is very fuzzy under the law and can only be solved by the intervention of the courts.

Merry Christmas!