While Minnesota bans same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples working for government offices, there is one way same-sex couples can be recognized: through domestic partnership registries. On Tuesday, the city of Richfield became the ninth Minnesota city to approve a domestic partner registry, and today LGBT advocates say that 1 million people live in cities across the state that recognize same-sex relationships.
The registries have little legal force – state law and a Minnesota Supreme Court decision bar cities from providing benefits to same-sex couples – but the registries are important for businesses that offer benefits. Same-sex couples can use their registry certificates to prove their relationship is valid for human resource purposes and the couples have married status in city facilities.
The Richfield City Council passed the ordinance on Tuesday by a vote of 3 to 2 and joins Minneapolis, Duluth, St. Paul, Rochester, Maplewood, St. Louis Park, Edina and Golden Valley in offering its residents a domestic partner registry.
“One million Minnesotans now live in cities which, to the extent they are able, treat same- and different-sex couples equally under the law,” OutFront Minnesota said in a statement on Thursday. “Though domestic partner ordinances do not carry anywhere near the legal weight of marriage equality, Minnesota now has nine communities showing that treating all couples – regardless of the gender – equally under the law is both possible and desirable public policy. We look forward to the day when same-sex and different-sex couples are treated equally under the law.”
Richfield resident Philip Lowe, Jr., and his partner Jason King lobbied the city to pass the ordinance.
“One small step towards equality was taken in our City of Richfield,” Lowe stated in an email to the Minnesota Independent. “Domestic partners straight or lesbian/gay can now be counted as citizens of Richfield. We are no longer invisible to our community. Inclusion means people count. Tuesday’s vote forward means that domestic partners can be counted, and that we count in the City of Richfield.”
The city also passed an ordinance allowing employees of the city to receive bereavement leave should their domestic partner pass away. That ordinance passed unanimously on Tuesday.
Though the domestic partner ordinance passed, Lowe said there was some resistance.
“The one obstacle we experienced was Councilman Fred Wroge and Tom Fitzpatrick suggesting that the domestic partner registry ordinance should not be passed, but a resolution made to the State,” Lowe said. The two council members said the issue should be settled at the state level.
“There was some effort on their part to keep domestic partners from being recognized by the City for the purpose of passing the buck,” Lowe said.
But, even though the ordinance will now count same-sex couples among the families in Richfield, it’s mainly a symbolic victory.
“If we were allowed to marry as opposed to just having a domestic partner registry, we would be able to share in the benefits of joint tax returns,” said Lowe. “We would be able to request and possibly gain public assistance from Hennepin County as a married couple, instead of as two single individuals. We would perhaps not have to hire a lawyer and pay $1,500.00 or more to have legal documentation to visit or take care of our spouses in their critical time of need.”
He added, “As a married couple we would not just be documented and recognized as a couple, but we would also share in the same opportunities and benefits that all married couples do. The domestic partner registry is one small step towards equality. But, we need to keep making additional steps together towards full marriage equality for all Minnesotans.”