As the debate over gay marriages rages in courthouses and state capitols across the nation, 50 same-sex couples gathered in Minneapolis on Thursday to do what they could to make the state consider them a family. Cathy Ten Broeke admitted that Minneapolis's domestic-partner registry is mostly symbolic proof of partnership with scant legal power, but she said it's an important step to something more. That next step is legally recognized marriages between two people of the same sex. There's a budding movement in the state capitol to amend the constitution so that such a step doesn't happen.
For Ten Broeke, 35, Thursday's event couldn't have come at a better time. "To have the city recognize us as families feels really good, especially considering all of the political issues going on," she said, standing next to Margaret Miles, her partner of five years. The event was part of the national Freedom to Marry Week. OutFront Minnesota, a leading advocacy group for gays and lesbians, sponsored the event. There were no counterprotests.
Currently the registrations in the city are the only option available for same-sex couples that want something close to marriage. Mayor R.T. Rybak issued a proclamation declaring the day "Domestic-Partner Registration Day." He said he would like to see gay couples receive the same
benefits as heterosexual couples.
Rybak said that Deputy Mayor David Fey does not receive the same access to health benefits for his partner as married staff members do. Government is supposed to lead the way on human rights, he said. "I believe that the deputy mayor in the city of Minneapolis or any employee should be able to get the benefits they could get from working in many successful businesses around Minnesota," Rybak said.
OutFront has not pushed the legislature to legalize gay marriage, said Monica Meyer, a group spokeswoman. Instead, the advocacy group has been lobbying against adding anti-gay marriage restrictions to the U.S. Constitution.
Rep. Mary Liz Holberg said amending the state constitution in 2004 would be the easiest way to make sure Minnesota judges don't interpret the law to allow same-sex marriages. "I don't understand it from a lawmaking standpoint," said Holberg, referring to Thursday's registry. "It is more ceremonial."
The ordinance does protect a partner's right to visit the other in a health care facility, in most cases, and recognizes domestic partners in its definition of "family" for purposes of its housing and zoning provisions.
A recent phone call prompted Jude Foster and Carla Nathan to register sooner rather than later. Nathan, 24, was taken to the hospital. Foster knew Nathan's family wouldn't be able to fly in from New Jersey, and she wasn't considered immediate family even though they had been together more than four years. "When you're GLBT, those phone calls can make your heart stop," said Foster, 32, of Minneapolis.
Since launching domestic-partner registration in 1991, the city has had 900 couples pay the $20 fee and fill out the paperwork to register. Since the city opened the registration to people living outside the city last year, gay couples have traveled from throughout the state to register. The Minneapolis city council approved offering health benefits to same-sex partners of employees in 1993, but the Minnesota court of appeals overturned that decision, saying the city didn't have the authority to do so.