the University of Florida have just made a major flip-flop on
a proposed rule requiring that domestic partners must have an ongoing sexual
relationship with each other in order to qualify for benefits.
University Board of Trustees voted last month to offer benefits to
domestic partners of University employees, some bureaucrats
started to worry that perhaps two long-term roommates might
attempt to enroll in the new benefits program. It wasn't
enough for them to require proof of financial interdependency,
such as both adults having their name on the same lease and a
joint bank account.
bureaucrats wanted a clear cut method to differentiate between
"real" domestic partners and long term roommates. So they
decided to require applicants to declare under oath that they
had a "non-platonic relationship." In other words, the
parties would be required to swear they were having sex with
bureaucratic trial balloon has just had a crash landing. After
some employees protested the proposed rule, and wondered how it
would be enforced, the University's Vice President for Human
Resources reconsidered the "non-platonic relationship"
Sex will no
longer play a role in deciding who qualifies for domestic
partner benefits at the University of Florida. One wonders
how the sexual relationship requirement got the okay of
University lawyers in the first place since the Florida
Constitution specifically guarantees the right of privacy to all
in Florida is symptomatic of an ongoing debate over who should
be included and who should be excluded from domestic partner
benefits. Only gay couples? Gay and straight
couples? Any two adults, including blood relatives?
years there has been an implied assumption that domestic
partners are lovers and that domestic partner benefits are
intended for unmarried couples in a romantic relationship.
assumption arises from the fine print in domestic partner
benefits programs and laws. Close blood relatives -- those
who would be barred from marrying each other -- have generally
been excluded from registering as domestic partners.
always presumed that a marital relationship has a sexual
dimension. Since incest is illegal in our society, and
since genetic defects often occur when children are born from
incestuous relations, it is logical that the law would prohibit
close blood relatives from marrying each other.
partnership, however, is a relatively new concept. The
requisite criteria for two people to be considered domestic
partners is still in an evolutionary stage of development.
wave of domestic partner programs and laws excluded blood
relatives, but allowed all other unmarried adults to participate
regardless of whether they were same-sex or opposite-sex
couples. This first wave started in 1984 and lasted about
Then the push
to legalize gay marriage moved to the forefront and many
advocates for reform wanted domestic partnership rights to be
limited to gay and lesbian couples. The theory was that
since same-sex couples could not marry, domestic partnership
should mirror marriage as much as possible and be limited to gay
relationships. These gay marriage advocates argued that
since close blood relatives are not allowed to marry, they
should not be allowed to become domestic partners either.
So during the
next wave of political and economic reform, post 1994, almost
all newly instituted "domestic partnership" benefits programs
excluded blood relatives, and many of them excluded opposite-sex
couples as well. Domestic partnership was turning into
"marriage lite" for gays and lesbians.
But as time
went on, and more large and medium size employers were offering
domestic partner benefits to their workers, corporate executives
began to question the wisdom of excluding unmarried heterosexual
couples. Many were uncomfortable with the idea of limiting
such benefits to adults in homosexual relationships.
count, there were more than 8,000 employers with domestic
partner benefits plans in the United States. Most of them
now allow same-sex and opposite-sex couples to sign up.
But the overwhelming majority continue to exclude blood
employers or government agencies require, or assume, that
domestic partnership relationships are sexual in nature?
Why shouldn't domestic partnerships be based on a "family" model
rather than on a "sexual" model?
officials in Florida finally got it right -- as I believe they
have -- and domestic partner benefits should not hinge on
whether two people have a sexual relationship or not, then it
would be logical and fair to allow any two adults who are living
together as a family unit to register as domestic partners and
gain the benefits. There is really no good reason to
exclude blood relatives from domestic partner benefits plans and
are always talking about "family values" and Democrats are
constantly concerned about "working families." Prohibiting
unmarried blood relatives from employer-based or
government-sponsored domestic partner benefits programs should
offend members of both major political parties.
Two unmarried adults who are
living together on a long-term basis and are financially
interdependent should be allowed to register as domestic
partners regardless of whether they are gay, straight, or blood
relatives. Sex should be irrelevant.
Unmarried America 2006
Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an
attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family
diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.
Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried
email@example.com. Unmarried America is a nonprofit
information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and