Thursday, May 10, 2007

Just the Facts: Domestic partner registries stretch across U.S. & present few problems

By Diane Silver

As Lawrence, Kansas, gets ready to consider a domestic partner registry on May 22, this Just the Facts post will look at how registries have worked in other places.

As of this writing, 72 governments in the United States provide domestic partner registries, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s online database. These include four states – Maine, New Jersey, Hawaii and California. The 68 cities and counties with registries range in population from 13,300 (Tumwater, Washington) to 9.9 million (Los Angeles County, California). Kansas City, Missouri, also offers a registry.

Many universities towns provide registries, including those that are home to the:

Although the details of registries vary, in the day-to-day world of local governments, they work as just one more service provided to city residents, said city clerks from registry towns.

The Experience of Iowa City
As the site of the University of Iowa and a Midwestern town, Iowa City may be the closet match to Lawrence among the cities and counties with registries.

Iowa City has a population of about 62,900. Lawrence’s population is about 82,000. The University of Iowa enrolls about 29,000 students. The University of Kansas enrolls approximately the same number.

The home of the Iowa Hawkeyes, Iowa City’s experience with its registry has been a happy one, city officials said in telephone interviews this week with In This Moment.

The Iowa City registry has:

  • Been in effect for nearly 13 years
  • Never resulted in a lawsuit against Iowa City (Source: City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes)
  • Paid for itself through a $30 fee (Source: Iowa City Clerk Marion Karr)

“It’s working very well,” Karr said. “We haven’t had any problems whatsoever with it.”

Karr stressed that no taxpayer money is used to pay for the registry.

“I am aware that often it is used as proof of relationship for insurance purposes,” Karr said. “We simply acknowledge the relationship. It becomes a public record, and we give them (the people who register) a certificate.”

Dilkes said that she did not believe the city would be liable even if a couple misrepresented themselves on the registry.

“There might be ramifications for the individual,” Dilkes said. “It’s hard to see how the city would be liable.”

Here are details of how the Iowa City registry works.

The Issue of Lawsuits
Although some suits have been filed about the constitutionality of domestic partner registries, It is hard to find reports of lawsuits being filed for other reasons.

“I have never heard of any lawsuits against any municipality based on someone making fraudulent claims based on a registry,” said Rose Saxe, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT and AIDS Project.

Cities that provides registries are in a similar legal position as states when they certify marriages, she said.

“States don't get sued when people enter into fraudulent marriages,” Saxe said.

How Domestic Partner Registries Are Used
Often businesses use registries as proof for employer benefits, the ACLU's Saxe said. Even if this is not the only kind of proof required, companies sometimes penalize employees who don't have access to registries.

For example, Motorola requires a six-month waiting period for employees who aren't registered as domestic partners. Other companies require affidavits and other extensive paperwork as proof of a domestic partnership.

More companies are offering domestic partner benefits every year. The Human Rights Foundation reported in its 2006 Corporate Equality Index that more than half of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner health benefits to their employees. Many companies also include domestic partners in benefits such as dental, vision and COBRA continuation coverage. Other companies are making domestic partners eligible for family and medial leave, bereavement leave, retirement benefits and employee discounts. The foundation reports:

The company policies most often extended to domestic partners include bereavement leave (71 percent of rated companies), relocation assistance (63 percent) and (Family and Medical Leave Act) FMLA-like leave (60 percent).


Friendly Reader said...

I appreciated the research you did in your "Just the Facts" posting to provide your readers factual information and experiences of domestic partner registries in other cities and towns across the US. It was nice to read that domestic partners want, deserve and have the the same needs for traditional benefits as other coupled employees--health benefits, retirement, FLMA, funeral leave, etc.

Diane Silver said...

Thanks! I appreciate hearing from a friendly reader.