Editorial: Domestic Partner Registry issue at local level

by Don Heinzman

The Eden Prairie City Council is the latest to approve a Domestic Partner Registry that legally enables couples living together and not married to acquire certain benefits.

Domestic partners can be any couple, including same-sex and heterosexual couples.

After filling out a one-page form and in some cases paying a slight fee, these couples can be eligible for bereavement leave, family leave and insurance benefits at companies that recognize domestic partnerships.

The couple must be unmarried and living together, live in the city and be committed to one another to the same extent as married persons are to each other, except for the traditional marital status and solemnities.

Back in 2008, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed legislation that would have allowed partners of state, federal and city employees to a have the same benefits reserved for married couples.

His veto, however, didn’t prohibit individual cities from approving an ordinance for their own domestic partner registry.

Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edina, Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, Eagan and Richfield have approved these registries. Rochester, Red Wing and Duluth also have them.

The Eden Prairie City Council wrestled with the registry before approving it on second reading, 4-1.

One council member, Brad Aho, said it wasn’t needed, that only nine people in neighboring Edina registered for the benefits and only 2 percent of the cities in the state have adopted it.

More to the point, he argued that the ordinance undermines marriage because it infers that any marriage is as equal as the partnership.

Councilmember Kathy Nelson said the proposal has nothing to do with the proposed marriage amendment that will be on the ballot in November.

“The ordinance,” she said, “does not make a statement in favor of or against any state law, and it is not political.”

Another council member, Sherry Butcher Wickstrom, reminded that the city has a manifesto which encourages diversity.

It’s a way of acting and not just talking about diversity, she said.

Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens was surprised more people didn’t object to the registry. The pattern in cities where it has been passed is that most people find the registry reasonable.

The mayor struck the right chord when she said, “The ordinance may not affect many people, but we deal with things that affect a small number of people all the time, as well as decisions that face all Eden Prairie residents.”

That’s the genius of local government; it is local enough to be concerned about all of its neighbors.

This action by the Eden Prairie City Council is to be commended, because it enables citizens to get benefits under the law regardless of their marital status as long as they live together in their community.

Other cities should follow Eden Prairie’s example.

Editor’s note: Don Heinzman is editorial writer for ECM Publishers.