At its meeting Aug. 2, the Plymouth Human Rights Committee voted 6-1 to recommend to the Plymouth City Council for the city adoption of an ordinance that would allow people to register as domestic partners.
A domestic partner registry would allow unmarried couples to certify their relationships with the city.
Supporters have said registration would make it easier for couples to obtain hospital visitation rights and benefits from employers that offer domestic partner benefits. Registries can also be a symbolic vote in support of same-sex marriage while actual marriage remains off the table for gay and lesbian couples.
Discussion between Committee members and citizens attending the Aug. 2 meeting was lively and included looking at both sides of whether or not to recommend the ordinance.
Committee member Ada Alden provided information defining the purpose of a registry; definitions of domestic partner; benefits to the city to have a registry, and the cities that have a registry along with when they established one, filing fees and number of people registered in that city.
Cities' filing fees range from $50 to $20. Minneapolis has had a registry the longest since 1991, and the most recent city that approved one was Northfield. In total, about 19 cities have a domestic partner registry in Minnesota.
Arguments made against approving the recommendation included not needing this ordinance because the city already offers household memberships whre no one is excluded from benefitting from the services the city has to offer.
Plymouth Mayor and Committee member Kelli Slavik reiterated this point at the Aug. 2 meeting as she had mentioned it at a previous Committee meeting. She said couples needing the benefit of a healthcare directive may do so through a lawyer or software application. Slavik didn't not vote in favor of recommending the ordinance to the City Council.
Committee member and Councilmember Bob Stein said that he didn't see the need for the domestic partner registration ordinance because Minneapolis provides a registry for non-Minneapolis residents as well.
For other Committee members and citizens who spoke on the topic at the meeting, it came down to having the ordinance as an opportunity for the city.
For resident Kris Stoffel, who has lived in Plymouth since 1996, the registration is also about acknowledgement. Stoffel and her partner have been together many years and consider themselves married and in a committed relationship even if they legally cannot be married in Minnesota.
"It is important for society to acknowledge we have rights and ultimately I want to have the rights to be with my partner in the hospital," Stoffel said. "I want freedom and acceptance. Heterosexuals have the option to not get married, but I do not."
Virginia Klevorn said she didn’t see why it hurts anything to have the ordinance.
"We’re smart people, capable of taking care of our own and this is our home," Klevorn said. "Why tell them to go to Minneapolis."
Slavik said the city is a welcoming place for everyone and that the City Council and city is focusing on its core services with less and less money and resources.
"We are collaborating with other cities," Slavik said. "I think we are an open and welcoming community and do make extra steps to make it inclusive."
Committee member Kelly Guncheon said he admires what the Council and city does for its residents and community.
"I believe in the dedication you all have to the city in light of our economy, it’s very difficult work," Guncheon said. "That being said, I think one of our core services is to welcome and be welcoming and this [ordinance] doesn’t involve a huge investment, but is very meaningful for those who would want to use it. For very little investment you can extend the welcome to everyone."
Also at the meeting were partners Don Untiedt and Jim McKee who moved to Plymouth in 2004 because they saw it as a progressive community. They were welcomed by their neighbors right away and any apprehension they first had about being partners in Plymouth vanished.
"Our neighborhood was of a lot of 'live and let live' people, one couldn’t ask for a better endorsement," Untiedt said. "I know a lot has happened in eight years, as we have come to love and nurture and want best for each other. But I think having this [domestic partner registration] would be a way to draw people here."
The discussion of a domestic partner registration had been ongoing for the Committee for more than a year. It was originally brought up to the Committee by a Plymouth resident at that time.
That information and discussion by the Committee now gets passed onto the City Council to be used to facilitate discussion on the Committee's recommendation on whether or not to have a city ordinance allowing a domestic partner registry in Plymouth.
The Human Rights Committee's vote to recommend the ordinance is not an approval of having it. The approval is up to a vote by the Plymouth City Council at a future meeting yet to be determined.