A Test for Tolerance (Colbert I. King, The Washington Post) 01/01/05
Where D.C. Officials stand on equal marriage rights compiled 05/15/04
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Fighting for Equal Rights Since 1971
P. O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
Friday, February 4, 2005 (Revised)
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
GLAA Statement on Domestic Partnership Equality Act of 2005,
The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C. (GLAA) congratulates D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson and co-sponsors—Councilmembers Ambrose, Barry, Brown, Catania, Graham, Gray, Evans, Cropp, and Schwartz—for the introduction of The Domestic Partnership Equality Act of 2005, Bill 16-52. GLAA has been informed that other councilmembers intend to co-sponsor as well, and anticipates that the bill will pass without Council opposition.
Bill 16-52 is an expansion of the rights and responsibilities of domestic partners in Washington, D.C. The bill is a moderate measure granting legal contracting and inheritance rights to domestic partners, but leaving such partners far from the level of rights and responsibilities of marriage.
This legislation will allow registered domestic partners to protect themselves and their families, especially in times of crisis. Many of these rights and responsibilities can be set up with elaborate contracts that can cost thousands of dollars. Others cannot otherwise be established without marriage. The bill also establishes the associated responsibilities and obligations for the relationship.
Specifically, the bill grants domestic partners the following rights and responsibilities currently applicable only to married couples:
- Immunity from testimony, establishing private communication protections similar to those that an individual has with a spouse, clergy, lawyer, and doctor;
- Power of Attorney to manage a partner’s legal responsibilities;
- The equivalent of pre-marital agreements;
- Obligation to support a partner after a breakup, similar to alimony;
- Standing to sue for negligence causing death;
- Rights of surviving partners and children in the event of death;
- Rules for dying intestate (without a will) and other issues of inheritance.
This bill will not have any cost to the D.C. Government. This legislation does not create any new entitlements or obligations for the D.C. Government. It does allow domestic partners to legally order their affairs and establish binding contracts to establish the legal parameters of their relationship; define rights and responsibilities in the event of a break-up; and protect themselves if one should die.
D.C.’s domestic partnership law applies equally to gay and straight couples. However, gay couples have the most to benefit because they are legally barred from marriage. Allowing couples who may not wed the legal structures needed to protect themselves is a matter of basic fairness.
While everyone should have a will to protect their family and heirs when they die, many people do not. This bill will recognize domestic partners and their children as legal heirs should one of them die intestate. Numerous other issues of inheritance and the rights of surviving domestic partners and children are addressed to protect the families of domestic partners.
Currently, only immediate family and spouses have the right to sue when a loved one is killed due to negligence. This legislation will give domestic partners legal standing in such a time of need.
Our laws protect private conversations between spouses, with doctors and with religious figures. This is an important privacy right that does not currently apply to domestic partners. Rosie O’Donnell was sued recently and her domestic partner was compelled to testify about their private conversations. This bill will extend spousal immunity to domestic partners.
Premarital agreements are an important legal structure that helps couples settle their financial affairs in the event of their relationship failing. Domestic partners don’t have any basis in the law for determining how to divide their assets. This bill will give domestic partners the legal power to define the financial aspects of their relationship.
Power of attorney is an essential legal device for handling the affairs of someone who is unable to do so for themselves. Domestic partners, already invested in their partner’s finances and legal obligations, need to be able to step in when their partner is unable to take care of their own affairs.
GLAA spokesperson Richard J. Rosendall stated, "This is a moderate measure to help protect real families in the District. These are local issues, and the spirit of Home Rule calls for the District to be able to decide how to protect its residents and their committed relationships."
Even with the passage of this bill, D.C. will still be behind Massachusetts, Vermont, California, New Jersey, and Maine in protecting all of our families. Under the new legislation, the District's domestic partnership law will still fall short of the rights of married couples in the following ways, among others:
- Will not provide full recognition as family members under D.C. law
- Will not pay for health care coverage of D.C. government employees’ domestic partners at the current family rate
- Will not provide for the health benefits elections for D.C. government employees
- Will not provide retirement and survivor benefits for the domestic partners of D.C. government employees
- Will not exempt taxes on health care benefits for domestic partners
- Will not confer the right to file taxes jointly
- Will not streamline adoption of a domestic partner’s children, or recognition of parental rights
- Will not provide recognition of their partnership and legal status outside of the District
- Will not provide recognition of partnerships and same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions by the District
- Will not provide any of the 1138 rights and responsibilities of marriage from the federal government.
President Bush, shortly before the election, said he supports the right of states wishing to offer non-marriage legal alternatives to gay couples. GLAA takes him at his word.
GLAA looks forward to the quick passage of The Domestic Partnership Equality Act of 2005, bill 16-52. The bill may be viewed online at http://www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us/lims/billrecord.asp?strlegno=B16-0052