GLAA endorses domestic partnership, parentage bills
”Fighting for equal rights since 1971”
P.O. Box 75265
Washington, D.C. 20013
Bill 17-0726, Domestic Partnership Police and Fire Amendment Act of 2008
Bill 17-0727, Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Act of 2008
Delivered before the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary
July 11, 2008
Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson. I am Rick Rosendall, Vice President for Political Affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. We are a non-partisan, all-volunteer advocacy group founded in 1971.
We strongly support Bills 17-726 and 17-727 and their further advances toward equality for same-sex couples and their families. Mr. Chairman, you and your co-introducers, Council members Jack Evans and Carol Schwartz, have been champions on behalf of GLBT families. We commend the diligence of committee staff in the unglamorous work of cleaning up the D.C. Code. My comments today will be of a summary nature. I am pleased to be here with some esteemed fellow advocates. In particular, I wish to associate GLAA with Nancy Polikoff’s detailed testimony on Bill 17-727.
Bill 17-726, the Domestic Partnership Police and Fire Amendment Act of 2008, gives domestic partners equity by including them as survivors for the purposes of retirements from our Police and Fire/EMS departments. In addition to the tangible benefits, this bill will enable many of our city’s public safety officers to stand a little taller in their uniforms, and will serve as a standing rebuke to those among their colleagues who continue to denigrate GLBT citizens.
Bill 17-727, the Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Act of 2008, amends Title 16 to include domestic partners as parents of children born in the District of Columbia; includes domestic partners within the coverage of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act; and amends the Vital Records Act to allow the inclusion of domestic partners on birth certificates. This brings D.C. Code more in line with the realities and needs of D.C. families by clearly establishing the relationship of a child to both of its parents in a domestic partnership.
These bills continue and expand the District’s proud tradition of upholding equal dignity for all citizens. They advance the social good of promoting family responsibility, and improve the security of the children of same-sex couples. We urge the adoption of both bills.
Addendum to testimony on Bill 17-727July 11, 2008
This morning I received a copy of a July 10 letter to you from Tonya A. Sapp, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). It states that “mother” and “father” are terms in federal law, and that if we change that to the gender-neutral “parents” we might “place the District out of compliance with federal law.”
[Note: Professor Nancy Polikoff pointed out during the question period with Chairman Mendelson that terms such as "mother" and "father" are defined under state law rather than federal law; that federal law follows the states in this area; and that there are states that already do what Bill 17-727 does. Thus, the concerns raised by OAG are based on unfamiliarity with the relevant law.]
Fundamental to Bill 17-727 is our purpose of establishing the legal responsibilities of non-biological parents in domestic partnerships, and the legal rights of their non-biological children. If we can collectively devise wording that avoids falling afoul of federal law while still accomplishing our purpose, fine. But we should not back down from our purpose, certainly not based on speculation from an office that appears uncomfortable with what we are seeking to do in the first place.
Near the end of the letter, Ms. Sapp writes, “[T]he amendment arguably permits children to inherit from unrelated domestic partners, and their relatives, even after the domestic partnership has terminated. Such a broad expansion of intestate inheritance rights appears to be unusual, if not unprecedented, and would likely inspire litigation.”
This is quite outrageous coming from the office of our city’s attorney general. The current bill is merely designed to carry forward our city’s policy, established through more than a dozen bills (most if not all of which passed unanimously), of giving the same rights and responsibilities to domestic partners as to married couples. If Mayor Fenty truly embraces that policy as he claims to do, then he must repudiate the July 10 letter from the office of his Attorney General.
As the Attorney General’s office appears late in noticing, the District went beyond federal law when it first established domestic partnerships 16 years ago. Until civil marriage equality is in place nationwide—which is many years off—there is going to be confusion on family law matters among the states and between states and the federal government. The only way to avoid such confusion is for us to abandon our struggle for equality and for the gay rights movement to disappear. Given that we are not about to disappear or abandon that struggle, we will have to proceed as best we can. The District does not act out of a desire for conflict with the federal government, but out of a commitment to equality under the law for domestic partners and their children. Our city’s lawyers should be defending District policy and not undermining it. If they don’t understand that, the Mayor should clue them in.
Richard J. Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs