Domestic partnership registry would be 1st in state

Proposal could help gay or unmarried couples qualify for health care

The noise coming from City Hall tonight won’t be wedding bells.

But city commissioners at their weekly meeting may make noise heard across the state as they consider becoming the first Kansas community to legally recognize gay partnerships.

There appear to be at least two votes on the City Commission for creating a ordinance that would recognize gay partnerships. City Commissioner Boog Highberger said Monday that he supported the idea proposed last month by Commissioner Mike Rundle.

“I think this will help some people feel they are full citizens,” Highberger said.

The proposal would create a domestic partnership registry, where gay couples could register their partnership with the city clerk’s office. Under a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2005, gay marriage is illegal in Kansas.

Rundle proposed the idea of a domestic partnership registry after gay and lesbian advocates said they thought it would send a strong symbolic message of tolerance and would help domestic partners qualify for health care benefits at their partner’s workplace.

The registry also could be open to heterosexual couples who have chosen not to marry.

But whether the idea will find the necessary third vote on the commission isn’t yet known. Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner David Schauner both said Monday that they hadn’t yet formed an opinion on the proposal.

“I’m not really leaning one way or another on this at the moment,” Amyx said. “I guess I’m trying to look into the future a little bit and ask where a change like this may take us in the future.”

Amyx, Highberger, Schauner and Rundle will be the four commissioners considering the proposal tonight. Commissioner Sue Hack is out of town and is not scheduled to participate in the meeting. She was unavailable for comment Monday.

The domestic partnership registry would not automatically grant the legal rights that married couples have to gay or lesbian couples. The registry also would not automatically require the city or private employers to begin offering health care benefits to employees’ domestic partners as granted for spouses.

But supporters of the ordinance have said they hope that once a registry is in place, city commissioners will start offering health benefits to domestic partners of city employees.

City staff members also were not able to rule out the possibility that some people may try to use the existence of a registry to garner benefits from their private employers.

In addition, city staff members said it was difficult to say whether a Kansas court would uphold the constitutionality of a domestic partnership registry.

Cities in several other Midwestern states have successfully created a domestic partnership registry. They include Kansas City, Mo.; Iowa City, Iowa; Boulder, Colo.; and Madison, Wis.

Highberger said he decided to support the proposal after reviewing it enough to become confident that it could be upheld in court. Highberger, though, does expect some public opposition.

“I don’t see this as an attack or threat on anyone’s marriage,” Highberger said. “I suspect there are some people who will find this offensive, and I regret that. But I think if we are really going to consider ourselves a tolerant and diverse community, this is something we need to do.”

Commissioners will meet at 6:35 tonight at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.