Panel answers questions on domestic registry

When Diane Silver’s life partner died of breast cancer, the already difficult task of tending to her partner’s affairs was made more arduous by insurance companies and government agencies doubting that their relationship existed.

She had to prove the relationship through newspaper articles written about them.

“Here are these people saying your relationship doesn’t mean garbage,” Silver said.

It was a process that a domestic partner registry could have helped, she said.

That kind of documentation was one potential benefit of a registry, which was discussed at a forum hosted by the Mainstream Coalition and Kansas Equality Coalition on Thursday at Plymouth Congregational Church.

Ever since Attorney General Paul Morrison issued a legal opinion that Lawrence’s proposed domestic partnership registry wouldn’t interfere with the state’s amendment that bans gay marriage, it appears to be just a matter of time before the Lawrence City Commission takes the issue up again.

Toni Wheeler, director of legal services for Lawrence, along with Steve Maceli, a Lawrence business owner, and Boo Tyson, from the Mainstream Coalition, answered several questions from the approximately 40 attendees about the proposed registry.

Among them:

¢ For those concerned about privacy, would there be an opt-out policy to keep them off a public list of couples on the domestic partner registry?

Answer: Wheeler said the domestic registry would likely qualify as a public document, made available for anyone who asks for it.

“Because the registry is with the city, it would be a public record, and if a person had a concern about whether their name would be included in that registry, that would be something they should consider,” she said.

¢ Does this registry set the stage for costly litigation for Lawrence?

Answer: Wheeler said several similar registries in other parts of the country had been challenged in court to varying degrees of success. The outcomes of those cases depended on home rule charters and state laws in the places where registries had been adopted.

“Some of them survived,” Wheeler said. “Some of them were upheld, and some of them were not.”

¢ Could people from outside the city come to Lawrence for the purpose of getting registered, even though they’re not residents of the city?

Answer: Morrison’s legal opinion suggested to Lawrence that it keep the registry limited to Lawrence residents to prevent the further possibility of litigation.

“Under home rule powers, that would insulate us from legal challenges,” Wheeler said. “It would take that argument away.”

¢ When will the commission consider the issue again?

Answer: City Commissioner Boog Highberger, who was in attendance, said it could come before the commission within the next month or so.