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Blame it on the gays. Seriously.

November 2, 2006

Apparently, there are many people in NYC who actually like the idea of accessing benefits without having to get married. Imagine that!

AM New York reported on Monday that ¾ of the registered domestic partnerships in New York City are straight couples.

The city’s eight-year-old domestic partnership law was intended to give some of the benefits of marriage to gay couples.

But over the past few years, heterosexual couples have found the law to be a convenient way to take advantage of city or corporate benefits. Meanwhile same- sex couples may be eschewing domestic partnerships and waiting for full marriage rights.

I must say that even I was shocked at the high percentage – I would have assumed that straight couples who take advantage of the DP option were in the minority among those who have DPs. Apparently not. Why would these couples not just get married? The author considered some possibilities, the first of which was regarding the mental space that marriage entails:

“It gives you flexibility because marriage is a very intricate set of connections that sometimes you need a cutting torch to get rid of,” said Bill Dobbs, a gay activist for the past 20 years. “You have options now, among them are domestic partnership, civil unions. People want other ways to get benefits and be connected.”

Benefits! Aha.

There are several key benefits a couple can receive through domestic partnership, most importantly access to a partner’s health benefits.

Domestic partnerships also allow a person to establish residency in an apartment. Elderly couples find domestic partnerships useful to share benefits while not affecting their pensions from, say, a deceased spouse.

Also, homeless couples that register as domestic partners may qualify for subsidized apartments instead of being sent to dormitories.

My conclusion: the system sucks if people have to demonstrate partnerships (of any kind) just to establish residency or get subsidized apartments or any other of the countless benefits that you can access if you get married or have a DP. My fear is that once gay marriage is established (and it’s only a matter of time), the option of DPs will disappear, leaving people no choice but to marry if they want to access any benefits. Michael Bronski writes (and I quoted this when I wrote about gay marriage in June):

Because [domestic partnerships] were instituted out of a sense of fairness to gay men and lesbians, and not to promote viable economic and ethical alternatives to traditional marriage, it makes perfect sense (to some) that they will disappear as legal civil marriage becomes available across the country. The result is that marriage will not be simply a choice for some gay people, but compulsory if the couple needs any of these benefits, even if they are not inclined to marriage.

I must confess that I don’t know a lot about the specifics of benefits through marriage vs. benefits through DPs apart from what I’ve read in this article, but if anyone knows more, I’d be really interested to learn. I wonder what are the specifics of domestic partnerships that make Bronski call them “viable and ethical alternatives to traditional marriage.”

And to finish, some cold facts, also from the article:

New York City Domestic Partnerships
2004:
Opposite sex: 2,147
Same sex: 901
Total: 3,048

2005:
Total: 3,066
Opposite sex: 2,251
Same sex: 814

2006: as of 10/25/06
Total: 2,863
Opposite sex: 2,096
Same sex: 767

Full text.

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