|New York City
Takes Historic Step
on Domestic Partnership
[Empire State Pride Agenda, Press Release]
|July 8, 1998 - Fulfilling
a promise made to the Pride Agenda in October 1997, on July 7 Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani signed into law historic legislation broadly extending recognition
of domestic partners in New York City. The sweeping measure, crafted over
many months of negotiations with the Mayor's office, passed the City Council
on June 24 by a vote of 39 to 7 and is the first significant piece of
pro-gay legislation to be enacted in New York City in 12 years. |
The legislation sets a new national benchmark for domestic partner recognition and is a significant step on the road to full equality for lesbian and gay families. Whereas most other cities have addressed domestic partnership only in the context of municipal employee benefits, this law covers all areas under City jurisdiction, extending to registered domestic partners equal access to services, entitlements and responsibilities as currently extended to spouses. The unique nature of the legislation prompted national media attention as well as a New York Times front page story.
Because of its breadth, the law affects dozens of real-life issues _ from obtaining a parking permit for an individual's disabled domestic partner to granting the right to inherit a newsstand or food vendor license from one's deceased domestic partner. At last, a domestic partner will have the same authority as spouses in determining funeral arrangements. (In the past, domestic partners had no legal standing and were often shut out by blood relatives.) The domestic partner of a uniformed city employee killed in the line of duty will now be entitled to receive his/her partner's death benefits. The law codifies executive orders issued under the Koch and Dinkins administrations establishing the domestic partnership registry, and governing bereavement leave for City employees, visitation rights in City-run facilities, and succession rights to apartments under City jurisdiction. Looking forward, the law requires the City to extend to domestic partners the same benefits it extends to spouses of employees in all future collective bargaining negotiations. In all, the law amends 25 separate provisions in the City Charter and Administrative Code and requires changes to over 30 official City Rules. In addition, the law obligates all City agencies to review their internal policies and bring them into line with the law's intent. A more detailed description of the law's provisions is included in the insert accompanying this newsletter.
Law Caps Long Struggle
The law caps a 10-year struggle to achieve equal recognition of couples in domestic partner relationships. In 1988, the Lesbian and Gay Teachers Association (LGTA) filed a lawsuit in state court against the Board of Education challenging the Board's refusal to extend health insurance benefits to the domestic partners of unmarried New York City school teachers. (The Pride Agenda's own Paula Ettelbrick served as counsel to LGTA.) The filing of that lawsuit, settled in 1993, was followed by executive orders granting bereavement leave, establishing the domestic partner registry, and granting visitation rights in city hospitals and jails.
In 1990, the first domestic partner bill was introduced into the New York City Council by then Councilmember Carolyn Maloney. Beginning in 1991 Councilmember Tom Duane sponsored and championed the bill, eventually enlisting more than two dozen co-sponsors. In 1997, then Councilmember Antonio Pagan introduced a bill that would have codified the existing executive orders, but after vehement objections to its limited scope, it was not voted out of committee. Last summer, the Pride Agenda asked Mayor Giuliani to support and actively advocate for the passage of the Duane bill in the City Council. After a series of meetings with the Pride Agenda, the Mayor committed to "propose and lobby for passage" of alternative, but equally broad legislation.
Matt Foreman, Paula Ettelbrick and our New York City lobbyist, Ethan Geto, kept the process moving forward through several rounds of difficult and sensitive negotiations between the Mayor and Speaker of the Council. Staff also worked with representatives of city employee unions and human service organizations to identify areas in local law that required change, as well as with leaders of all of the local lesbian and gay political clubs. When public hearings were held in June, the Pride Agenda helped identify individuals to testify before the General Welfare Committee, chaired by long-time supporter, Councilmember Steven DiBrienza.