By Diane Silver
[updated 8:07 a.m. 5/23]
Before a room packed with Kansas Equality Coalition members wearing brown and yellow coalition stickers, the Lawrence City Commission tonight voted 4-1 to make the state's first domestic partner registry a reality.
So many supporters of the registry showed up at the meeting that chairs had to be placed in the lobby of City Hall.
Two more votes are required to institute the registry in Lawrence. However, long-time city observers say they have never known of the Commission to backtrack on an issue once it has received this kind of first-round support.
The only commissioner who voted no was Mike Amyx.
The yes votes were Mayor Sue Hack, Commissioner Boog Highberger and newly elected commissioners Rob Chestnut and Mike Dever.
Hack and Highberger spoke passionately of their support for the registry. Hack said she supported it with both her mind and heart. Highberger noted that this kind of law should really be done on the federal or state level, but that those governments have failed to perform their responsibilities.
"If we're going to have the kind of city we want, we have to deal with this on the local level," he said.
Chestnut said he was voting for the registry because of the service it provided to the citizens of Lawrence. However, he said that he had supported the 2005 statewide ban on same-sex marriage.
Among those speaking in favor of the registry was the Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, and former Lawrence Mayor Mike Rundle, who retired from the Commission in April.
Four people spoke in opposition to the registry, including one minister.None of the opponents represented a group. There did not appear to be any organized opposition.
Among those speaking in favor of the registry were representatives of MAINstream Coalition, The League of Women Voters, PFLAG and the Grassroots Coalition. (I know of the Grassroots organization, but like a dolt didn't write the correct name down of this fine activist organization. Bad blogger... but I digress.)
What the Commission technically did was to instruct its staff to make some minor revisions in the ordinance, and then to bring it back for the Commission's June 12 meeting. The ordinance will be up for one more vote, probably on June 19. That will finalize the ordinance and officially make Lawrence the first city in the state with a domestic partner registry.
Lawrence City Manager David Corliss said the he hopes to have the registry ready and open for business by August 1. However, Corliss admitted that was an ambitious timeline. That date could change.
As approved tonight, the registry would cover both same-sex and straight couples. Only residents of Lawrence will be able to register. A fee will be charged. Corliss said that fee may be in the ballpark of $25 to $35, but he said that he couldn't yet commit to a figure. The fee could be higher. It will have to cover the costs of the registry.
At this point, it appears that registrations will be conducted online, although details still have to be worked out.
Commissioner Highberger explored the possibility of allowing non-Lawrence residents who work in Lawrence to register, but that idea was postponed. It appears that the Commission may ask Attorney General Paul Morrison to comment on the constitutionality of such an idea and then come back and amend the ordinance.
Here's the Lawrence Journal-World's take on the City Commission meeting. Fox 4 TV in Kansas City has a video report of the meeting. Other news coverage came from the Topeka Capital-Journal.