Domestic partner registry plan advances

URBANA – Creation of a domestic partner registry in the city of Urbana took a step forward Monday night.

The Urbana City Council voted 6-1 in committee to direct staff to draft language and rules creating such a registry. The draft ordinance, when it is prepared, would come back to the city council for consideration within a few weeks or months.

Council members took an expansive view of a domestic partner registry, specifying that both gay and straight couples could join such a registry, and that a romantic relationship isn't required to participate.

Instead, the language specified a relationship of "mutual emotional and financial support" for people who intend to remain in that relationship.

Alderwoman Esther Patt, D-Ward 1, proposed that a romantic relationship not be required, saying she preferred French law that lets, for example, two sisters who live together to register as domestic partners.

"I think it's far better to support people creating households together that meet their emotional and economic needs," Patt said.

The council also decided that such a registry would be open to people who live both inside and outside of Urbana who want to participate. A moderate fee to cover the costs of the program would be implemented. The city clerk's office would administer the program.

Domestic partner registries have been created in dozens of cities and counties, and even a handful of states, across the country.

The original intent was to provide a way for gay and lesbian couples to show their commitment to each other in states where laws do not allow gay marriage.

In Illinois, Cook County and Oak Park have domestic partner registries. Such registries are also viewed as a way for companies that provide benefits to domestic partners of gay employees to verify that a relationship exists.

Champaign resident Robert Michael Doyle, a gay-rights activist, told council members that domestic partner registries are a way for gay couples to show commitment to each other.

"These relationships exist," he said. "They are very important to these people, and I think you ought to recognize them as a city."

The eventual goal of the gay community is for legalized gay marriage, as is already allowed in Massachusetts, he added.

"It (gay marriage) is a grass-roots movement among gay and lesbian people," Doyle said. "It is actually not being promoted by gay-rights organizations."

The proposal for a registry was suggested by council members Danielle Chynoweth, D-Ward 4, and Ruth Wyman, D-Ward 2, but it enjoyed widespread council support.

"I think this registry is a small step in showing an open-minded progressive attitude that has been a hallmark of this town," said Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5.

Alderman Joseph Whelan, R-Ward 6, cast the lone "no" vote. He called the council's action hasty.

"Tonight, we're drafting this without any serious consideration of the outcomes, the economic outcomes, the effect on traditional marriage," he said. "This kind of thing has a major effect on society and is something that should be given very long and wise consideration."

You can reach News-Gazette staff writer Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or via e-mail at mmonson@news-gazette.com.

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