County Celebrates Domestic Partnerships
By Troy Crago, News Editor
in line during the first day that Broward County provided for the registration
of domestic partnerships, Gary Keating looked at his partner Richard Schultz
in a new light. Despite being together for over 17 years, both men
were overwhelmed with emotion.
“We were both surprised,”
says Keating, who co-owns the Mangrove Villas with Schultz. “It was
much more meaningful than we had ever anticipated.”
Keating and Schultz are among
the over 600 couples – 75% of them same-sex couples - who have sworn their
commitment as domestic partners in a registry that gives homosexual and
unmarried heterosexual couples some of the rights enjoyed by married couples.
There are a significant number
of couples living committed family relationships who establish personal
and emotional relationships outside
the bonds of traditional
marriage. Because of their diversity, many townships and government
agencies adopt a system for these relationships to be recognized and registered.
As Valentine’s Day approaches,
many of these couples will be expressing their commitment in many public
and private ways, and inevitably, many of them will formally register their
unions with domestic partnership registration.
Is a Domestic Partnership?
In the age of AIDS, increasing
numbers of gays and lesbians seek stable relationships. For many,
those relationships bring home the realization that they are not treated
on equal footing with their straight counterparts.
If at least for the time
being the option of getting married is out of reach for many Broward County
couples, some marriage-like benefits, typically called domestic partnership,
are not. As the debate over legal recognition of same-sex relationships
heats up, the polls have shown that ever-growing segments of the public
support extending some benefits to gay couples.
There are many levels of
domestic partnership. They range from simple registries to attainment
of basic rights such as health insurance, pension benefits, family leave
and inheritance rights.
In concrete and less tangible
ways throughout Broward County, the legal status attached to domestic partnership
has meant different things to different people in their everyday lives.
More than 100 couples signed
up the first week in July of 1999. An overwhelming majority of registrants
are gay and lesbians. Less than 10% were unmarried heterosexuals.
Some couples have used their
new status in different ways. One woman,
armed with the domestic
partner certificate, confronted a funeral parlor that has refused to accept
her as a close relative. She was allowed to make future funeral arrangements
for her ill partner.
Many other couples have used
their status to make symbolic, political points about their sexuality.
Keating said he and his partner were initially not looking for marriage.
But he was troubled about what might happen if his partner was involved
in an unforseen accident. Could Schultz visit him in the hospital?
Keating had worked in an
environment where “ I witnessed time and time again family members not
allowing a partner into the hospital in those intense, and often final,
moments... now we are guaranteed the right to make health decisions.
To me, that is major.”
Same Visiting Rights
“We’re still hundred and
hundreds of things behind in privileges and rights given to heterosexual
married couples,” Keating added
Under this initiative, registered
homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples are granted the same standing
as married couples in hospital and correctional facilities. They
are also granted visiting rights and are able to make decisions as health
care surrogates or pre-need guardians. Those who work for Broward
County can elect health insurance coverage for their partners and use all
forms of leave, including sick leave, annual leave, family illness leave
and bereavement leave to care for their partners or the dependents of their
“It’s a major statement about
the legitimacy of these families in our society,” said Karl Lutgens, a
gay professional who is considering registration with his partner.
Equal Pay for Equal Work?
The argument put forth by
advocates of domestic partnership benefits in the workplace is that they
are equal pay for equal work. Their proponents say that if married
heterosexuals get family leave and health insurance coverage for their
loved ones, it is unfair to deny those benefits to gay employees.
In fact, employee benefits
are considered employee compensation. The Society for Human Resource
management says that benefits constitute 40% of an employee’s compensation.
A growing number of employers
are providing domestic partnership benefits for their unmarried, partnered
employees. They include some high profile names like IBM. A
recent report by KPMG Peat Marwick found that 13% of all firms offer health
benefits to domestic partners of the same sex.
Broward County Commissioners
encourage this practice by offering preference to contractors who provide
benefits for domestic partners of their employees.
A Binding Agreement
“It means something,” said
Brad Kane, who also registered with his partner Steve Shuman on the very
first day. “The more people say, ‘We are domestic partners and we
have this piece of paper,’ the more it will begin to be known
that this is a binding agreement and it will be respected.”
Kane and Shuman registered
“because it is a commitment. It is the first step in obtaining rights
we did not have before.” They were not concerned with the legal benefits
that registration would provide. Their attorney had already prepared
legal documents to cover all of the bases that domestic partnership merely
Since its inception, there
have been only 6 terminations of domestic partnerships filed with the county.
Only 2 of those couples were same-sex couples (one gay, one lesbian), which
puts the “divorce rate” of committed same-sex couples in Broward County
at less than 1% - a far cry from the over 50% divorce rate among their
Both Keating and Kane agree
that the gay community in Broward County has not taken advantage of these
benefits. “Until more committed couples register, society will not
see the full impact of our numbers,” says Keating.
In their frequent travels
around the world, Kane and his partner have been advocates of domestic
partnership registration with other couples they meet. Frequently
they are greeted with amazement and awe. “People here don’t realize
how lucky we are to live in Broward County,” said Kane.
Keating agrees. “We
felt strongly that we had to do this, not only for ourselves but for the
greater society at large. It’s one more barrier that has been knocked
down regarding our families and our lives.”
The registration process
is very simple. Contact Broward County governmental offices for information.
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