Those who think Central Pennsylvania is a lost cause got a surprise last night when the Harrisburg City Council unanimously approved legislation creating a Life Partnership Registry. While far from a perfect solution to the problem of discrimination against the LGBT population, this marks a step forward in the struggle for equality.
The new Life Partnership Registry is open to couples who, like married couples, are 18 years of age or older, competent to contract, and freely declare that they are “solely and mutually committed to each other.” They also must share common obligations, as evidenced by common ownership of property, joint bank accounts, designation of each other as the beneficiary of life insurance policies and retirement benefits, or other factors.
The partners must sign a declaration, which includes a statement “that the persons are in a relationship of mutual support and caring, and are responsible for each other’s welfare. For these purposes, ‘mutual support’ means that they contribute mutually to each other’s maintenance and financial support.”
In his book Gay Marriage: Why It’s Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, Jonathan Rauch argues that this – mutual support and caring and responsibility for each other’s welfare – is the primary purpose of marriage and the reason why society has an interest in seeing its citizens, gay or straight, in married relationships. The legal and social ties that marriage establishes, he says, stabilize these relationships and contribute to their longevity. Marriages then serve as a vehicle for society to provide emotional support, financial assistance, care during health crises, and other benefits that the state or another entity would otherwise have to provide to the married partners.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has also endorsed gay marriage because it allows two parents to mutually support and care for a child. In many states, same-sex parents are not allowed to co-adopt a child, and only one can be the legal parent. The non-biological/non-adoptive parent may be unable to access rights on behalf of the child, including health insurance, survivor benefits, consent for medical care, or visitation rights should the relationship end or the legal parent die.
Returning to reality as it stands at the present, Harrisburg’s Life Partnership Registry is far from being gay marriage. It does, however, recognize the importance of these relationships for promoting “the public health, safety, welfare, and prosperity of its citizens and generally [improving] the overall quality of life,” and confers those rights over which the city has authority. Specifically:
– health care facilities operating within the city must allow registered Life Partners the same rights and visitation privileges granted to married spouses
– for the purpose of leases, rental agreements, and real estate contracts within the city, the definition of the term “spouse” will also include registered Life Partners
– the City of Harrisburg will be required to provide health care benefits equal to those for spouses to Life Partners of its employees
– private employers in the city, as well as the City of Harrisburg, will be required to provide bereavement leave to Life Partners if that leave is offered to married spouses
– all facilities owned, leased, and operated by the city must offer Life Partners the same rights and privileges given married spouses related to the use and access of these facilities
– the City Clerk must comply with any requests from private employers who wish to use the Life Partnership Registry as the basis for providing partner benefits to its employees
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that, “No state shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Today Harrisburg took a step toward fulfilling that promise to its LGBT citizens. We look forward to the time when gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals will truly enjoy equality under the law.
Becca in Harrisburg