TOPEKA, Kan. – The Topeka chapter of a civil rights organization is asking the city to establish a domestic partner registry by the end of the year to give unmarried couples better access to benefits such as health care.
Councilman Andrew Gray said that he will present the ordinance to the city council at a work meeting next week and it could have a first reading sometime this month, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
The registries generally allow unmarried adult couples, regardless of gender, to fill out forms acknowledging their commitment. The partners can then use the forms to get access to health care, hospital visitation rights and other benefits enjoyed by married couples.
The Topeka chapter of the Kansas Equality Coalition is leading the effort to establish the registry in Topeka, saying it will help attract and retain employees and extend equality to the couples.
“Like all working Americans, lesbian, gay, bi and transgender families struggle to make ends meet,” Stephanie Mott, chair of the Topeka chapter said in a news release. “Establishing a domestic partnership registry in Topeka will give those families, many of whom are raising children, easier access to health care and hospital visitation that many people take for granted.”
Gray said extending benefits to domestic partners is important because it validates nontraditional relationships. And he said it will help the city improve its image after publicity about a couple of “black eyes” it has received recently.
The city has been criticized recently because of the council’s Oct. 11 decision to repeal an ordinance outlawing domestic violence in a budget dispute with the Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor over which office should prosecute the cases.
Gray said the city also has a “perpetual black eye” because it is the home to Westboro Baptist Church. The group, known for protesting at military funerals across the country, says the deaths are God’s way of punishing tolerance for homosexuality in the U.S.
“This announcement is a way to show that Topeka truly is a tolerant city, an open city,” Gray said. “And, most important of all, it’s just the right thing to do.”
Topeka employers that already offer health benefits to domestic partners include Dillons, AT&T, Cargill, Payless ShoeSource, Bank of America and Mars Inc.