Urbana moves toward domestic partner registry

By Nate Sandstrom

Those who cannot or do not want to get married but want their relationships recognized by the government may have the opportunity soon in Urbana.

On Monday, behind a 6-1 vote, the Urbana City Council sent an ordinance that would create a domestic partnership registry to next week’s meeting with a recommendation for approval.

The registry would be available to both gay and straight couples and to residents and non-residents of Urbana. To be eligible, both participants would have to be 18 or older, live together and state in a city affidavit that they are in a committed relationship. Those who register as domestic partners cannot be in a marriage recognized by the state of Illinois or be claimed by someone else as a dependent.

There is no set date for the registry to be available, but the ordinance states that it must be available by Sept. 1. The city would charge a $15 fee to pay for the registry’s maintenance. The document would be public record, like a marriage license. If a same-sex couple parts ways, both parties must sign a termination agreement, which dissolves their relationship.

Alderwoman Danielle Chynoweth brought the ordinance up for discussion at the meeting. She said the City Council had received many requests for a registry and that those people were helpful in designing a program that people in the community could use.

“I sent this out to a number of people in the community, both constituents and people associated with gay and lesbian organizations,” she said. “I received excellent, excellent feedback from people.”

Chynoweth also said the registry could be used by employers who extend health benefits to domestic partners. The University extends health care benefits to same-sex domestic partners only.

Chynoweth called the program a good first step, but said she would ultimately hope the domestic registry program would become unnecessary because all people would be given equal access to marriage.

Alderman Joseph Whelan cast the lone vote against the program, arguing that the council is overstepping its bounds.

“This particular thing is a joke. It’s truly a joke. Domestic partner. What the hell is a domestic partner? It’s either that you’re a homosexual or you’re living together without the bonds of marriage,” Whelan said. “The thing that makes this a joke to me is the termination. It reminds me of some states in the Middle East where a man just has to send a postcard to discard his wife.

“Tell the government to get out of our bedroom,” Whelan said. “It has no right, no reason, no privilege to legitimize or delegitimize the relationship between two people.”

But Alderman Dennis Roberts defended the proposed termination agreement because it allows an end that would be “a court-involved, lawyer-involved interaction.”

Alderwoman Esther Patt said she might agree that a registry was unnecessary if marriage was an available option for same-sex couples.

“Because it is not, people who support the civil rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, people who are concerned abut the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the institution of marriage, have sought to recognize domestic partnerships as the first step toward including all people, regardless of sexual orientation, in the mainstream of American life,” Patt said.

Alderman Christopher Alix also said the inclusion of opposite sex partners is important.

“I think that any two individuals who are willing to band together for the mutual benefit, whether they are married or members of a same-sex relationship or a large number of classes of individuals I could think up, probably provide equal benefit to the community,” he said.

Chynoweth said the registry was important because historically same-sex couples have not been recognized, and the history of homosexuals has been essentially erased.

“I think this is a historic step forward,” she said. “I think it is one step in many steps. I don’t think in any way this is equality but I think it’s meaningful to a lot of people.”

Before the debate, Whelan announced that he will be retiring by April 30 when he submits his retirement papers. His term was set to end on May 2.

“Despite our disagreements, and there’s been many, I value your intention and goodwill,” Whelan said as he addressed the City Council.