Summersgill testifies on Domestic Partnership Amendments Act
by Bob Summersgill
before the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary
of the Council of the District of Columbia
Friday, October 19, 2007
Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson, members of the Committee and fellow citizens. My name is Bob Summersgill. I am a resident of Ward 3. I have been working on expanding the rights and responsibilities of domestic partners in the District for more than five years.
I would like to thank you and your staff for all of your hard work on this bill. It covers a wide range of issues that bring domestic partners up to just short of all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage. The remaining issues will need to be addressed in the draft Domestic Parentage and Support Act of 2007. I look forward to that bill being introduced.
I would also like to thank in particular Councilmembers Evans, Wells, and Graham and their staff for all of their efforts this session drafting and researching some of these issues.
I do have a few points that I believe will make the bill stronger.
1. D.C. Code § 1-1106.02, “Disclosure of financial interest,” isn’t mentioned in the bill. Paragraph (h)(5) should add domestic partner to the definition of “Immediate Family”. This is very important to avoid the possibility of bribes given to a public official’s domestic partner without disclosure and then passed without penalty to the public official.
2. In several sections of the bill, gender specific terms, notably “husband,” “wife,” “widow,” and “widower” are retained. In most sections of the bill when those words are found they are replaced with “spouse” or “surviving spouse.” The gender neutral terms are important for a few reasons.
Firstly, those words harken back to the days before marriage was an equal partnership when a man owned a woman. In that archaic legal context, the gender specific terms were appropriate. With the significant changes to marriage law in the past century, those archaic ideas were purged, but not all of the language has been modernized.
Secondly, it will not be very long before this Council will be dealing with the recognition of same-sex marriages from either other jurisdictions such as Massachusetts and Canada, or the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples by the District government. In order to facilitate that day, it would be prudent to modernize the language as we come to it.
Thirdly, the bill corrects some of the gender specific language, but not all. This may be the result of different people drafting different sections. The result is inconsistency in the bill itself.
The sections of the bill that need to remove the gender specific terms are:
Section 3 paragraphs (f) and (h)
Section 21 paragraph (b)
Section 28 paragraphs (a) and (b)(1)
3. We need to add domestic partners to D.C. Code §§ 42-1301(b)(6) and 42-1301(b)(7) to avoid possible problems for domestic partners who own property jointly. They were left out of earlier lists. I am not sure if that will require a new bill section or if they can be added to Section 33 or 34.
4. Bill Section 37 is missing the updates to D.C. Code §§ 47-379; 47-1807.05(b)(7); and 47-1807.07(a)(6), which could result in problems with taxes.
5. D.C. Code § 47-1803.02(a)(2)(w) needs to be amended in the same manner as Section 37(d) of the bill: “is amended by inserting after the word ‘premium’ the phrase ‘and other cost or expenses.’ Section 37(d) amends the deduction for employers offering healthcare benefits to domestic partners, but it would not exempt the healthcare costs paid by self-insured employers from the gross income of its employees.
6. Step-child/step-parent relationships. Family relationships between a domestic partner and the children of his or her partner need to be recognized for a range of benefits and responsibilities. Professor Nancy Polikoff has identified the following list of D.C. Code sections that need to be amended to reflect those relationships.
If these sections cannot be amended in this legislation, they should be addressed in the draft bill “Domestic Partnership Parentage and Support Act of 2007.”
7. There are two sections numbered 26. The following sections should be renumbered.
8. There are also a couple of extra periods at the end of Section 23, paragraph (d); and Section 37, paragraph (e).
9. Because there is a change to Title 22—section 24 in the bill—there will need to be a 60-legislative day waiting period, not the 30 that appears in section 39 of the bill.
10. The Council should pass a companion emergency bill so that the Congressional review period won’t financially disadvantage people who need this legislation passed as soon as possible. The 60-legislative day waiting period can easily run into six months.
Thank you, I am available for any questions that you may have.