Ralph Cusack and Butch Fenton are just one couple among dozens expected to sign up for Maine's domestic-partnership registry when it goes into effect at the end of July. "It's the next legal step we can take in having the right to deal with each other's personal issues at a time when it might be needed," said Cusack, a Portland resident who hopes to travel to Augusta with his partner of 24 years to join the registry. "I see it as very practical, but it certainly has a strong symbolism to it." Supporters of the law, which is part of a bill that expands inheritance rights for unmarried couples, are planning a party to celebrate what they call a historic day.
The domestic-partnership registry represents another step toward securing equal rights for all Mainers, said Betsy Smith of Equality Maine. Domestic partners will have the same inheritance rights that a spouse has when a married partner dies without a will, and they will be considered next of kin when it comes to making funeral and burial arrangements. The law also allows domestic partners to serve as guardians of sick or injured partners and as conservators of a partner's property.
To enroll in Maine's domestic-partnership registry, applicants must complete and notarize a form and pay a $35 filing fee. After processing applications, the Department of Health and Human Services will mail a "declaration of domestic partnership" to applicants. Equality Maine plans to have notaries on hand on July 30 so couples can file their completed applications the same day. The state will operate the registry without additional staffing or added costs, DHHS spokesman Newell Augur said. "We're expecting a good amount of business" on July 30, he said, but the department is prepared for it.