Urbana celebrates domestic partner registry

By Courtney Klemm

White and silver balloons decorated the Urbana City Council chamber Wednesday as more than two dozen couples and their friends celebrated the start of Urbana’s domestic partner registry.

On May 2, the Urbana City Council voted six to one to approve an ordinance to create the domestic partner registry, which is available to both gay and straight couples. Alderwoman Danielle Chynoweth was the driving force behind the ordinance when it was discussed and passed last spring.

“By and large, it’s an amazing progressive step in the right direction,” said Nicky Bennett, member of C-U at the Altar, a local group pushing for marriage recognition for everyone. “It’s really neat to see something like this happen in the Midwest.”

To register as domestic partners, couples must produce a form of identification, proof of age and a fee of $15 for a registration of domestic partner affidavit and registry maintenance. Couples are given certificates to sign and keep as a public document of their registration.

“The registry takes the responsibility of affirming (domestic partner) relationships,” Bennett said. “There’s now a little more authority and a little more heft behind these relationships.”

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    There are many guidelines and restrictions in order to be eligible for the registry, including being at least 18 years of age, sharing a common residence, not being legally married and not being blood-related closer than permitted by Illinois marriage laws. However, the registry is open to domestic partners anywhere in the country, even those who are not U.S. citizens, as long as they meet every other regulation.

    For many who were present, the registry is a new step toward being recognized legally as a couple.

    “I’m excited. It’s sort of like getting a stamp of approval,” said Kathie Spegal, a member of C-U at the Altar who registered with her partner, Lynn Sprout. “It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to get any benefits, but it is nice to be recognized. It was the right thing to do.”

    Domestic partners that are a part of the registry won’t have to sign affidavits as frequently as they used to. The registry also makes it easier for employers to administer domestic partner benefits, Bennett said.

    Some said they hoped the registry would also pave the way for similar recognition in other aspects of the community.

    “This is a good step,” said Kevin Johnson, who has been with his partner, Alderman Brandon Bowersox, for four years. “Hopefully, businesses will go off of this and offer domestic partner benefits.”

    While couples celebrated the progress that the registry created, some said that more benefits and rights need to be given to gay couples.

    “Separate is never equal,” Bennett said. “Until gays are allowed to marry, we will always be second class citizens. This event is just celebrating another victory until we have the real victory when we can marry.”