December 2, 2005

 

Tucson's two-year-old partner registry gets limited praise

A story published today in the Tucson Citizen reports that two years ago, Albert Lannon and Kaitlin Meadows became the 10th couple in Tucson to register as domestic partners.

As heterosexuals, Lannon, 67, and Meadows, 59, are part of the registry's minority.

Nearly 350 couples have signed the registry in the two years since it began and 90 percent of those couples are in same-sex relationships.

"We registered the first day we could," Lannon said. "It was our way of sanctifying our relationship."

The City Council unanimously approved the domestic registry in September 2003. The first couples were allowed to register in December.

Domestic partners are celebrating the registry's two-year anniversary with caution.

Lannon and Meadows' vows - along with the vows of hundreds of other gay and straight domestic partners in Tucson - would be for naught if a proposed state constitutional amendment, Protect Arizona Marriage, passes in November 2006.

Initiative supporters want Arizona residents to be able to vote to define marriage in Arizona as being between a man and woman.

The initiative would prohibit governments and public agencies from offering domestic partner benefits under wording that outlaws marriagelike "legal status" for unmarried people.

That could be bad news for Meadows and Lannon, who share health benefits from Lannon's retirement plan and own a house together in the Picture Rocks area.

"We fell in love and wanted to get married," Lannon said. "But we have both been married before. We didn't want to lose Social Security and retirement benefits."

Although domestic partnership often is thought of as the province of same-sex couples, the arrangement can be beneficial for heterosexual couples, said Cathy Busha, spokeswoman for Wingspan, Tucson's gay, lesbian and transgender organization.

Heterosexual couples deal with many of the same issues as same-sex couples, including inheritance, medical decisions and asset management, said Marian Lupu, executive director for the Pima Council on Aging.

"When the primary breadwinner dies, a widow or widower is entitled to a pension," Lupu said. "Should that person remarry, the pension could be reduced."

Nathan Sproul, a consultant for the Protect Arizona Marriage initiative, said the goal of the initiative is to "engrave in stone that the benefits of marriage be for married couples."

He said he is confident the organization will collect the nearly 150,000 signatures to make in on the ballot in November.

Busha - who registered with her partner, Kristen Felan, in 2003 - said the initiative has unintended negative consequences.

"This amendment goes too far," she said. "It removes any legal protections for unmarried couples."

Domestic partnership helps protect against domestic violence and fosters stable families, Busha said.

Lannon and Meadows don't plan on starting a family.

They just want their commitment publicly recognized, Lannon said.

He said he doesn't know what will happen with the ballot initiative, but he and Meadows will leave politics out of their anniversary.

"The domestic partnership has deepened our commitment," Lannon said.

Wingspan will host an anniversary celebration tomorrow from 4 to 6 p.m. at its office, 425 E. Seventh St.

TUCSON ORDINANCE

The city defines a domestic partnership as people:

Not related by blood closer than would bar marriage.

Not already in a marriage or recognized domestic partnership.

Age 18 or older.

Competent to enter into a contract.

Who declare they are each other's sole domestic partner.

Who share a primary residence, are in a relationship of mutual support and declare that they intend to remain in such for the indefinite future.

To register, couples must fill out a form in the city Finance Department and pay $50.

If the partnership is terminated, the couple must file a termination statement with the city and pay $10.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

Tucson's registry is the first of its kind in Arizona. It allows unmarried couples, gay or straight, to get nominal benefits at city facilities. It allows partners to visit each other in the hospital.

Arizona governments providing medical benefits to domestic partners include Pima County, Pima Community College, the Sunnyside and Tucson unified school districts and Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe and Tucson.

The University of Arizona began a program in July granting couples who sign the city's domestic partner registry the same reduced tuition rates enjoyed by the university's married heterosexual couples.