COLUMBIA — Seats at Monday's City Council meeting were filled with members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community wearing rainbow stickers that were passed out before the meeting.
Dick Blount, a retired United Methodist pastor of 50 years, received a standing ovation from the audience when he stated his supportive view about the domestic partnership registry that came before the council.
"These, my brothers and sisters, are the last group that has not yet been given what is their right," Blount said during public comment. "That's all we're asking for. We're not trying to make the issue complex."
The Columbia Human Rights Commission voted unanimously at its March 3 meeting to recommend the council pass an amendment to Chapter 12 of the City Code to establish a domestic partnership registry. The council followed that request, passing the amendment by another unanimous vote Monday.
The new registry not only gives partners a document that can be used for employee and health care benefits, but it also requires that domestic partners be treated the same as married couples for purposes of access and family discounts to city-owned recreational and other facilities.
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe made it clear that employers are not legally bound to the registry.
"The ordinance does not impose any obligations on employers and businesses, but makes the registry available if they want to use it," Hoppe said. "This just helps people with their lives. Life is difficult enough without extra barriers."
During public comment, community members shared personal stories and pointed out the registry's benefits.
D.J. Lanza said when his partner of seven years died, he was evicted from his residence because his name was not on the lease.
Erin Horth, a member of MU LGBT activist group the Triangle Coalition, emphasized the impact a registry might have on the community, as well as MU.
"Not only will this registry, if it passes, bring rights to the community but will enhance the diversity of the entire university community," Horth said. "If these benefits are not offered, staff and faculty that might be interested in coming to the university may turn away and decide to go somewhere else where more benefits will be offered to them. I don't think that's fair to us as students that such qualified faculty should be turned away because of something that the city does not offer."
Nathan Gerth also pointed out potential benefits.
"By the City Council passing this, it would increase visibility, inclusiveness and acceptance," Gerth said. "I do feel that if domestic partnership is passed we would sense a more welcoming atmosphere also in the employment section as well. This is something that we need to do, and we need to do it now."
A.J. Bockelman, executive director of PROMO, an LGBT advocacy group, expected the amendment to pass but said he was surprised that all council members were supportive of the registry.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz shared a more personal perspective.
"It's a very simple choice," Sturtz said at the meeting. "It's a matter of justice. And as someone who has a sister who's a lesbian, it's something I've been immersed in for most of my life."
"It's extremely important to uphold the same protection rights and dignity to same-sex partnerships. It's a pleasure to vote on this after our neighbors to the north did something even more courageous," Sturtz said, referring to the Iowa Supreme Court's decision Friday that legalized gay marriage in the state.
Mayor Darwin Hindman shared Sturtz's view.
"It's also a recognition by the council as we represent our community that this is an open, receptive community, tolerant community, of everybody," Hindman said. "That's important, I think for our self-respect and for the quality of life that we want to have in our community."
All requests to be included on the domestic partnership registry must be processed through the Department of Public Health and Human Services, which will keep record of the registry. There will be a fee of $25 to file a request.