District Registers Domestic Partners
Congress Blocked Law for 10 Years
[WASHINGTON, DC] - The District government launched a domestic partnership registration program yesterday, ending a 10-year wait for some couples who had hoped the city's 1992 law would help protect their rights.
Several couples showed up yesterday at the D.C. Department of Health's Vital Records Division to register as domestic partners, as city officials celebrated the end of their decade-long battle to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992.
The law, which became effective June 11, 1992, had been repeatedly blocked by Congress until last fall, when many lawmakers, shaken by the terrorist attacks, briefly abandoned partisan fights over social issues.
Thom Metzger, 32, and Vince Micone, 35, were the first couple to receive their certificates yesterday. Micone said they were satisfied to see that "after 10 years of waiting, this is finally happening."
Metzger said that when the law was passed in 1992, he and Micone applied for a certificate. Over the years, their application was lost, like those of many others who applied a decade ago, and they had to reapply.
Like Metzger and Micone, the other couples at the ceremony launching the program wanted to document their relationships. None of those present was a District government worker seeking insurance benefits. The law makes unmarried people registered as domestic partners of D.C. government employees hired after 1987 eligible to purchase health care insurance coverage.
Mentally competent, unmarried people 18 and older who share a permanent residence are eligible to register as domestic partners. No one is allowed to have more than one domestic partner at a time.
The law gives domestic partners the right to visit one another at the hospital, to have final say over funeral procedures and to take annual or unpaid leave to care for or to attend the funeral of the domestic partner.
The extension of those rights is comforting for Deacon Maccubbin, 59, and Jim Bennett, 46, who have been together for 24 years.
Maccubbin said that though he and Bennett have not experienced a situation in which either of them was not allowed to visit the other in the hospital, they know of people who have. Until now, he said, hospitals have had no obligation to allow visitors who were not officially kin to patients.
"This certificate will allow us to make final decisions instead of being kicked out of a hospital," Maccubbin said.
Barbara Tyner, 59, and Candace Shuttis, 50, who have been together for 9 1/2 years, considered the launch of the program a very important step.
"For us, this is a way to get recognition and legality for our relationship," Tyner said.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) called the launching of the program "a human rights victory" and a "victory for the uninsured," providing better access to health insurance when 40 million people in the United States lack it.
But above all, Norton said, it was a victory "for the 10-year determined fight that the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered community spread to many congressional districts that finally changed the Congress to recognize the equal human rights of the gay community."
Norton, speaking at a news conference to kick off the registration program, also said she will introduce a bill in Congress to make benefits received by domestic partners of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty tax-free, as they would be for the spouse and children of such officers.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said yesterday was "a big day" for the District, which is following eight states, 132 municipalities, 168 Fortune 500 companies, 4,010 private employers, nonprofits and unions and 167 colleges and universities in providing domestic partner benefits.
The Vital Records Division in the D.C. Department of Health, which issues death and birth certificates, will be in charge of running the domestic partner registration program.
Both parties seeking to be registered as partners must go in person to the division, provide documentation that they satisfy the requirements for registration, submit an application and pay a $45 fee. Officials said the couples should receive their certificates within 10 days.
Urbane Bass III, chief of the Vital Records Division, said four couples, three of them gay, had applied for certificates within the first few hours yesterday. He said he expects the number to reach a "couple of thousand" in the next two months.