Marriage and Domestic Partnerships

November 10, 1993

Several cities around the country have created official registries for non-traditional domestic partnerships, an idea pioneered by gays and lesbians with no legal way to register a commitment to each other. The idea has merit, given the problems homosexuals in long-standing relationships can face in everything from visiting privileges when a partner is hospitalized to rights of survivorship.

But the version now under consideration in City Hall sends a message about marriage the city can ill afford to endorse. The current proposal is far too broad, including not just homosexuals, but also heterosexual couples, siblings or even single mothers who agree to share expenses.

Make a list -- drugs, violence, ineffective schools, an exodus of businesses and middle-class home-owners and, hence, a crumbling tax base -- and it's impossible not to find a serious problem that is not connected in some way to the city's high proportion of out-of-wedlock births. Children growing up in these families fare poorly by almost any measure, from health to education and, eventually, economic achievement. The odds are not insurmountable, but these youngsters clearly face an uphill struggle -- and no amount of government largess can ever fully level the playing field.

The problem spans racial lines, but unless ways can be found to shore up traditional, two-parent, wedded families in Baltimore, the number of children starting out in life with two strikes against them will continue to put unacceptable burdens on the city, both financially and in the quality of life for other residents. It would seem wise, then, for the city to do everything in its power -- whether through symbol or substance -- to encourage marriage, rather than take away incentives for couples to marry.

The current proposal calls for the creation of a registry for non-traditional domestic partnerships, and for the city to extend spousal benefits to registered partners of its employees. Health insurance would be the most significant and most expensive benefit, but bereavement and family leave would also be included.

But why jump into such a program now, when national health care reform may well provide other solutions? We have sympathy with calls for more flexibility in granting bereavement or other emergency leaves, yet these issues could be addressed without domestic partnership legislation.

Symbols are important, and so is substance. In a city where too many children are suffering from the lack of "traditional" families, this proposal fails on both counts.

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