Columbia's domestic partner registry provides benefits to couples

Tuesday, October 18, 2011 | 6:32 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — For Randall Kilgore, the Columbia domestic partnership registry doesn’t provide benefits that can be measured in dollar amounts.

The registry was simply a way he and his partner could make a subtle statement of their unity and support something they think will benefit others in the future.

Registry criteria

To be eligible for the city's domestic partnership registry, couples must:

Have resided together for at least six months.

Intend to reside with each other and share the common necessities of life.

Be 18 years or older.

Be mentally competent to contract.

Not be related by blood closer than would bar marriage in the state of Missouri.

Not married to any person other than their domestic partner.

Source: Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department

So far, there are 71 couples on the registry that was proposed by the Columbia Human Rights Commission and is now maintained by the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department. Only one couple has terminated its partnership since the registry was established in April 2009.

Kilgore, health information administrator at Truman Veterans Hospital, said he didn't really feel the registry was necessary, but he was happy to sign up when he learned from a newspaper article that the city was creating one.

"We live in a very traditional Columbia neighborhood that has embraced us," Kilgore said. "We've never felt disenfranchised."

When Kilgore and his partner of 31 years, Gary D. Smith, registered in 2009, he said the people at the Health Department were thrilled that anyone came in.

Kari Utterback, administrative supportive assistant for the department's Division of Human Services, said that while couples are still signing up for the registry, the initial excitement has died down.

Utterback processes forms for the registry. She said the registry isn't limited to Columbia residents, but any protections it provides are limited to the city.

"While race is protected at a national and state level, same-sex marriage is not," Utterback said. "This registry is only recognized locally."

For married heterosexual couples, receiving employee benefits can be as easy as showing a marriage license. The registry makes it easier for homosexual couples or unmarried heterosexual couples to gain access to benefits such as health insurance. It also makes it easier to designate a partner as a beneficiary in a living will.

"Most of the time, same-sex couples can access what married couples can access, but there's usually a lot more work," Tracy Johnson, a member of the registry, said. "Without the registry, same-sex couples would have to jump through several hoops such as showing documents that are even difficult for married couples to obtain." 

Johnson's domestic partner, Tamie Underwood, works for 3M, a company that provides domestic partner benefits. Because of the registry, Johnson, who is a law student at MU, is able to acquire healthcare benefits simply by showing that she and Underwood are on the registry.

Johnson and Underwood, who have been together for almost three years, said they used the registry for a family membership at the city's Activity and Recreation Center. Johnson is a stepparent to Underwood’s daughter. To obtain a family membership, all they had to do was provide a document proving they were on the registry.

"Even though I have the (MU) rec center, I didn’t want to deal with trying to get a membership for my family," Johnson said. "Our ARC membership provides us an extreme amount of savings, and we can all go at the same time."

Without the registry, Johnson said, employers would question whether the two were just roommates trying to get a discount.

Like Kilgore, Johnson believes the registry will be helpful to the gay rights movement in Missouri.

"It’s amazing that the city has this registry," Johnson said. "The benefits are on a smaller scale right now, but in the future being supported by the city is the first step to being supported by the state and then by our country. That’s how you acquire rights."

Other cities and counties in Missouri with domestic partnership registries are St. Louis, Kansas City, Jackson County, Olivette and University City.

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