Edina is 1st suburb to register gay partners

While mostly symbolic, it's seen by advocates as an important landmark.

When Judy Reisman of Edina became faint and weak, her longtime partner, Jane Levin, rushed Reisman to a hospital emergency room, leaving her while she parked the car.

When Levin ran back to the waiting room, Reisman was gone. No one would tell Levin what had happened. As a gay partner of a patient, Levin had no legal right to the information under federal law. Pushing past people, she dashed into a treatment room and saw an empty bed and Reisman's clothes on the floor.

For an instant, Levin thought her partner had died.

"Nobody could tell me what happened because I had no standing as a domestic partner of 17 years," Levin said. "This will never happen to us again in Edina. That's why this is huge."

"This" is last week's Edina City Council passage of a domestic partners registry. Edina is the first Minnesota suburb to approve a registry, following Minneapolis' 1991 action and 2009 approvals in Duluth and St. Paul.

While the registry's effect may be mostly symbolic -- state law prohibits local governments from offering health benefits to domestic partners -- Outfront Minnesota legal director Phil Duran said Edina's action is important.

"The reality is that there's not a lot cities can do in this area,'' he said. "That being said, there is a lot of value in symbolism because each of the communities that do this are sending a message about fairness, about inclusion, and about doing what they can do."

The new policy, which won unanimous support from the City Council, allows gay and straight couples who are unmarried but committed to each other and who share a home to pay $25 to register a domestic partnership with the city. City employees with a registered domestic partner will have the same sick leave and bereavement leave rights as employees with spouses.

The policy also means domestic partners can buy family memberships at city facilities such as Edinborough Park and the Edina Aquatic Center. Previously, nannies and foreign exchange students qualified as family members, but a gay partner did not.

That was "galling" to people in committed relationships, said Arnie Bigbee, chairman of the city's Human Rights and Relations Commission, which brought the measure to the council.

"If you had a nanny living in the house, that would be part of the family, but if two 50-year-old men were in a committed relationship, that did not count," Bigbee said. "What we've done is symbolic in some sense, but now it will be used to educate people at Fairview Southdale [hospital], and at Edina golf courses and swimming pools.''

Bigee said that Edina "is a big tent and we want everyone to be under that tent. We don't want people outside anymore."

For domestic partners, Edina's action could have real impact, Duran said. Many of Minnesota's largest corporations offer health benefits to domestic partners, but ask for documentation of the relationship. For a $10 fee, registered domestic partners in Edina will be able to get a certified copy of their status from the city that they could give to an employer. Bigbee said many gay couples, especially, carry legal documents when they travel to show who has the legal right to speak for someone or make decisions if there is an accident.

Levin said that's what she and Reisman do.

"We carry papers whenever we travel, but no one has to honor them," she said. "I see this as a landmark decision for Edina, because it recognizes us as a legitimate couple and as people who contribute to this community."

Levin and Reisman were in the council chambers for the council vote. "We hugged and cried," Levin said. "It was a huge moment."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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