Kansas City domestic partnerships
emerge as threat to traditional marriage
Christian law group files suit to protect
state’s new constitutional amendment
September 16, 2004
KANSAS CITY – Mike Whitehead, a Missouri Baptist attorney and a representative of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), has filed the first legal action involving Missouri’s new constitutional amendment on marriage.
The case – filed Aug. 11 in Jackson County Circuit Court – challenges Kansas City’s new domestic partner registry and benefits program as an “imitation marriage” that conflicts with the state constitution and statutes regarding marriage.
The City Council of Kansas City in 2003 adopted an ordinance creating a “domestic partner” registry, allowing unmarried couples to register with the city as domestic partners. In May 2004, the city offered health insurance and other benefits to registered “domestic partners” of city employees on the same basis as spouses of such employees.
Whitehead filed the petition for injunctive relief on behalf of a Kansas City couple, Ray and Judy Buckner, who are long-time residents and property owners in the city. Whitehead said they object to tax dollars being used to provide marital benefits to unmarried couples, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
Missouri voters Aug. 3 approved by a 71-29 percent margin to ban same-sex “marriages” in the state, defining marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman.
According to the lawsuit, the city has “unlawfully created a new marital status” under the guise of a “domestic partnership” by sanctioning a domestic relation other than that authorized by state law.
The city’s law department was served with the summons and petition on Aug. 18. City Attorney Galen Beaufort said his office was reviewing the petition and deciding how to respond.
“We do not see any merit in the claims,” Beaufort told The Kansas City Star.
The lawsuit alleges that the “domestic partner” registry “has the legal effect of creating an imitation marriage for persons who are unwilling to marry or who are ineligible to marry under state law.
“By establishing this registry,” the lawsuit contends, “the city usurps the state’s exclusive authority to regulate marital and non-marital unions; therefore, the ordinance is preempted by state law because it conflicts with state law and enters an area which is fully occupied by state law, and is contrary to state public policy.”
To qualify as “domestic partners,” the Kansas City ordinance requires that partners must:
• Share the same principal residence,
• Be jointly responsible for the basic necessities of life,
• Not be related by blood to a degree of closeness that would prohibit legal marriage,
• Both be at least 18 years of age,
• Have resided together for a period of at least one year and intend to do so permanently,
• Not be legally married,
• Be responsible for each other’s common welfare,
• Be each other’s sole domestic partner, and
• Have been mentally competent to consent to contract when the domestic partnership began.
The petition asks the court to enjoin the city from enforcing the ordinance or expending city tax dollars for health insurance or other benefits for “domestic partners.”
Whitehead is affiliated with the ADF, a public interest law firm based in Scottsdale, Ariz., with a regional office in Kansas City.
“ADF has won cases in other states on the grounds of state law pre-emption,” Whitehead said. “State law can pre-empt and prohibit local laws that are contrary to state public policy.
“The new Missouri constitutional amendment makes clear the public policy of Missouri on marriage. It is the policy of Missouri not just to protect the word marriage, but to protect the institution of marriage. Real marriage is protected when imitation marriage is prohibited.”
Alvin Brooks, the Kansas City councilman who led the effort to get support for the domestic partner program, said the registry involved a human rights issue and wasn’t intended to compete with marriage.
He said the intent was for city employees in “committed heterosexual or homosexual relationships” to have the same benefits married couples do. Brooks also said the program had only a minimal impact on taxpayers and the city budget.
The Kansas City registry now totals 66 couples. It also includes people who are not city employees. The city began May 1 offering health benefits to domestic partners of city employees. City officials said 30 employees and their partners now have applied for those benefits.