Monday, October 26, 2009

Several witnesses will urge DC to retain domestic partnerships

Hearings on the bill to grant marriage equality in the District of Columbia begin today. So many people signed up to testify that the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, chaired by Councilmember Phil Mendelson, has already announced that it will hear the first 100 today and the remaining ones next Monday.

I am number 49 on the list and so I will be testifying today. Naturally, I support marriage equality, but the bulk of my testimony urges the committee to remove the section of the bill that would end new domestic partnerships in DC effective January 1, 2011. You can read my entire testimony, but here is an excerpt:


From its inception in 1992, the status of domestic partnership in DC was about recognizing family relationships other than marriage. Unlike some jurisdictions, it was not a status granted only to same-sex couples and only because of their exclusion from marriage. Not only can different-sex unmarried couples register, but two people not in a romantic couple, including relatives, can register if they live together in a “committed, familial relationship.” Availability of marriage for same-sex couples, as a statement of the equal value of gay and straight relationships, does not diminish the appropriateness of providing a legal status to those who do not marry...


Once DC authorizes marriage for same-sex couples, it will be appropriate to reevaluate DC relationship recognition law. That work must include considering the needs of the wide range of family relationships that exist in this city – the very motivation for instituting domestic partnership in 1992. This is a critical undertaking, and we have numerous models to consider.

Let me give you just one example. The first substantial benefit granted to domestic partners in this city was the ability of a DC government employee to include a domestic partner on his or her employee benefits, including health insurance. Today, Salt Lake City, Utah public employees can cover on their benefits an “adult designee” and that person’s children. The employee and the adult designee must have lived together for more than year, must intend to continue living together, and must be economically dependent or interdependent, according to specific criteria. The City Council members who enacted this law articulated that they were recognizing nontraditional families and support systems, that they were allowing unmarried employees to provide for a primary family member, and that true equality recognizes the needs and living situations of all employees.

This Council could embark on such a reevaluation now, as part of this legislation. I believe the better course of action, however, is to leave our domestic partnership scheme intact until marriage equality is in place. At that point, I will wholeheartedly support, and gladly participate in, the Council’s careful determination of the needs of the wide range of relationships that make up the families of the District of Columbia.


I am in good company. Bob Summersgill and the vice president of the DC Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, Rick Rosendall, both oppose ending domestic partnerships. They are the number 1 and number 2 witnesses today, so this position will be articulated early on in the hearings. Bob and Rick have worked with Councilmember Mendelson over many years to create the domestic partnership regime we have in place. The New York-based Alternatives to Marriage Project has already submitted testimony opposing the end of domestic partnership here, and they are urging supporters to email the Councilmembers.

I'll be posting about today's hearing later.

5 comments:

H4736 said...

So DC could (hopefully) have both marriage AND domestic partnerships? I like it...

Always doing your homework, ay Nancy?
Good luck.

Nancy Polikoff said...

We could have both. We could also change the name of the status and/or adopt a status with a distinct purpose, such as Colorado's designated beneficiaries. I'm excited about the options.

Christopher said...

Excellent work Dr. Polikoff! Let's hope that kinder and wiser heads prevail and the Council doesn't fall prey to selfish gay conservatives seeking their place at the married table and shutting everyone else out.

Welcome to my blog. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
apassionateengagement said...

Thanks for this entry on a very complicated subject. It really would be great to have both. I know of a Massachusetts couple who decided NOT to marry because of the difficulty that might pose on an pending international adoption. The child's country of origin would not allow adoption by a same sex couple, and they would have had to name themselves as such of they married. Look forward to reading about your testimony as well as your book.