Duluth's domestic partner registration program began Monday with little fanfare and even less turnout. As of Monday afternoon, no one had signed up.
The city's official acknowledgement could help some qualify for benefits like health insurance that employers typically offer married couples. Duluth becomes the second Minnesota city to recognize domestic partnerships.
Duluth City Council Member Jeff Anderson introduced Duluth's domestic partner registry in May, about the time state legislators dropped statewide domestic partner registration from a spending bill because of opposition from Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Anderson, Duluth's only openly gay city council member, said it's time Minnesota cities send a message to the state.
"I brought this forward because in the State of Minnesota there's only one city that recognized domestic partners, and that's Minneapolis," he said. "No other city has taken that step forward, and I think at this time in history it's important for us to recognize that families look much different than they did, say, 40 or 50 years ago."
Minneapolis became the second major U.S. city with a domestic partner registry back in 1991. But there are big differences between the Minneapolis and Duluth versions.
Minneapolis requires most businesses that contract with the city to offer their employees domestic partner benefits -- the same as would be offered married employees. It extends hospital visitation rights to registered partners.
Anderson said Duluth's version simply offers an official acknowledgement of the partnership.
"I think it's important for a city to recognize that and also to extend an official recognition to make it easier for citizens to access benefits if they have an employer that provides domestic partner benefits," he said.
For all the fanfare, Duluth's first day of domestic partner registration has been decidedly underwhelming.
According to Duluth City Clerk Jeff Cox, no one had showed up by mid-afternoon Monday to register. But his office had received several phone calls over the past weeks by people interested.
Domestic partnership is often interpreted as a gay rights issue, but Anderson said it's much broader than that. The definition of a domestic partner could as easily be an unmarried, heterosexual couple keeping a household together.
Anderson may have wanted something more along the lines of Minneapolis, but he knows that politically, that would have been much more difficult to pass.
"I think this domestic partnership registry is a good first step in providing a little more equality to all of our citizens," he said. "I would like to see us some day move in that direction. I would also like the City of Duluth to some day be able to provide domestic partner benefits to all of our employees."
By law, Minnesota cities, including Duluth and Minneapolis, can't extend the same benefits to the unmarried partners of city employees.
With Duluth's registration program in place, St. Paul stands to become the third Minnesota city with domestic partner registration. St. Paul 5th Ward Council Member Lee Helgen is co-sponsoring a St. Paul registry, based on the one in Duluth.
Like Duluth's, it avoids the requirements under the more comprehensive Minneapolis registration.
"As a city, we can't offer domestic partner benefits," Helgen said. "We're not allowed to, by state law. And so, trying to impose that as a condition of our contract just seemed to create a little bit more discussion than what we were really trying to do, which was provide a registry option for individuals."
Helgen said the ordinance is not just about benefits.
"I think it's one way that St. Paul can just demonstrate that we value all families in our community, and that we are a welcoming community, and that we're really interested in the well-being of the families who live here," he said.
The St. Paul City Council could be taking up that city's new domestic partner registration this Wednesday.