If they choose to do so, both straight and same-sex couples can now place their names on a city directory and be officially recognized by East Lansing, even if state laws prevent them from formally doing so.
On Tuesday, the East Lansing City Council approved an ordinance allowing for the recognition of domestic partnerships by the city in a directory. East Lansing is the second city in the state of Michigan to pass such an ordinance. Ann Arbor passed a similar ordinance in the 1990s.
Although the ordinance is symbolic in nature because of the state’s marriage laws concerning same-sex marriage, Mayor Pro Term Nathan Triplett said it still is an important ordinance for the city to pass.
“It gives couples both same-sex and opposite-sex the ability to come to city hall and sign a declaration that will be witnessed like a marriage document and then to be recorded and kept on file at city hall,” he said. “East Lansing has a long history of being welcoming to the LGBT community . … One of the few areas where our community has not been able to do anything because of restrictive state laws is in the area of relationship recognition.”
Triplett said the ordinance gives value to members of the community who are same-sex couples.
“There is no one that has any illusion that this provides anyone any rights under law, but what it does do is say, ‘As a member of this community … your relationships have equal dignity of those of heterosexual couples,’” he said. “(The ordinance) provides a graphic illustration of the inequity between same-sex and opposite-sex couples in Michigan,” he said.
Councilmember Kathleen Boyle said this was an important first step in enacting legislation that hopes to bridge the gap of rights that same-sex and opposite-sex couples experience.
Boyle also clarified during the meeting that those worried about ramifications of being widely known as a same-sex couple should know the optional nature of the ordinance.
“There was some concern that was raised that perhaps the names of couples could be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act and that might subject them to some form of harassment. I think the important thing about that concern is that this is a vehicle for those who want their relationship recognized to come forward and make it public,” she said.