Monday, March 13, 2006

Council Favors Partnership Benefits

A scheduled discussion of city benefits for domestic partners Monday (March 13, 2006) was very brief, because all the City Council members endorsed the plan.

“It’s a great thing for Plainfield,“ Councilman Cory Storch said. “It addresses the spirit of what Plainfield is.“

The city prides itself on its diversity among more homogeneous surrounding communities.

In public comment, residents Alex Toliver and Joan Hervey spoke in favor of the resolutions and resident Dottie Gutenkauf said, “I want to add my voice to the chorus of hurrays to the City Council.”

Gutenkauf said the she was sorry it took so long, but was glad the council was “acting as one” on the issue.

At the regular meeting on March 20, the council is expected to approve city participation in state plans for pension and health benefits for couples registered under the New Jersey Domestic Partnership Act.

The last time the city had a focus on domestic partnership was on July 10, 2004, the first day partners were eligible to file. As in Maplewood, Montclair and other municipalities, Plainfield made a registrar available that Saturday at City Hall. Registrants had to bring proof they lived together and pay a $28 fee, among other qualifications. The opportunity was also open to opposite-sex couples over 62.

On Monday, the city’s Office of Vital Statistics cited a total of 35 registered partnerships.

Attorney Stephen Hyland, who specializes in domestic partnership law, said he believes the statewide number of registrations is under 4,000, despite a broad range of benefits that the law confers. He said New Jersey has an estimated 16,000 same-sex couples and it was unclear why more did not take advantage of the state law.

“The reason I think only a quarter are registered is that there is so much misinformation about the effect of the act and the usefulness of registration,“ he said.

Hyland said anyone who is committed to a same-sex partner “should be out there registering.”

He said anyone holding a governmental job who thinks that registering will make their sexual identity known to the world should remember that all the documents are private. Partners can register anywhere in the state, not just in their hometowns or where they work, he said.

Hyland is the author of a book on the subject and also maintains a web site with legislative updates and news about municipalities that decide to provide benefits. Hyland also offers a look at what other states may be doing regarding domestic partnership. Visit for more information.

At the state offers answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” and provides more details on the Domestic Partnership Act.

Hyland said when a municipality takes action to establish domestic partnership benefits, “I think it does increase the awareness all around.”

He called the state statute “a very, very broad law” and said, “People are losing significant benefits by not registering.”

As drafted, the Plainfield resolution covers both current employees and retirees who are registered as domestic partners.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: City Council, domestic partnership