Though Minnesota permits marriage between two people regardless of their sex, some couples prefer not to marry for political, cultural, economic, or other reasons. Some may prefer to register as domestic partners. Nineteen Minnesota cities currently have domestic partnership ordinances that allow unmarried couples (same-sex or opposite-sex), who meet certain criteria, the ability to document their relationships for the purpose of securing voluntary employer benefits and some limited forms of legal recognition to protect their families. Those cities are: Crystal, Duluth, Eagan, Eden Prarie, Edina, Falcon Heights, Golden Valley, Hopkins, Maplewood, Minneapolis, Northfield, Red Wing, Richfield, Robbinsdale, Rochester, Saint Louis Park, Saint Paul, Shoreview, and Shorewood.
What are municipal domestic-partner registration ordinances?
In 1991, the City of Minneapolis created Minnesota's first municipal domestic-partner registration ordinance. Since then, other cities have followed suit. These ordinances allow a couple, whether same-sex or different-sex, to register as domestic partners for a nominal fee (usually $25-$50) and receive a certificate that verifies their registration.
Municipal domestic-partner registries are permitted by state law.
Though Minnesota law no longer restricts marriage to different-sex couples, state law allows local governments to register domestic partners (see Ch. 145C). Each of the domestic-partner registration ordinances in Minnesota provides for recognition of registrations from other cities, as well as domestic partnerships, civil unions, and even marriages from other jurisdictions – as municipal domestic partnerships, and nothing more. Domestic-partnership registration ordinances do not create or limit rights or obligations in such areas as inheritance, adoption, child custody, separation, or over 500 related areas governed solely by State law. Counties administer State law, and because State law does not create a domestic-partner registry, there is nothing in this context for counties to administer – hence, counties are not involved in this conversation, which is currently handled at the municipal level.
Municipal domestic-partner registrations serve purposes beyond symbolism.
Undeniably, under Minnesota law, local governments are very restricted in terms of the rights or privileges they could attach to a domestic-partner registration. A registration ordinance simply provides unmarried couples who attest that they satisfy the City's definition of a "domestic partnership" the ability to secure government documentation that a relationship exists. That documentation function strengthens couples' ability to secure benefits or protections voluntarily provided by businesses, hospitals, or other entities, which can rely on a registration certificate for their paperwork needs rather than having to create their own.
Municipal domestic-partner registration ordinances impose no costs on local businesses.
None of the domestic-partner ordinances passed in Minnesota requires any private business or other entity to pay to provide financial benefits of any kind to couples who register. A domestic-partner registration ordinance, however, can make it easier for those businesses who would like to provide these or other benefits but who don't want to create their own, internal registration process.
Passing a municipal domestic-partner registration ordinance imposes no costs on a City itself.
Local governments in Minnesota may not offer their employees' domestic partners health coverage akin to that provided to employees' spouses. Other employment benefits, e.g., bereavement leave, may be offered, if the City chooses; merely passing a domestic-partner registration ordinance does not require a City to do so. The cost of preparing forms for couples to use for registration is more than offset by the registration fee couples are charged. Passing a domestic-partner registration ordinance does not require a city to provide any particular benefits to its employees' domestic partners, though naturally a City may choose to do so, other than dependent health coverage.
Municipal domestic-partner registration ordinances may help attract businesses and residents.
There is no evidence that in twenty years' experience, businesses or residents have left, or declined to move to, Minneapolis due to its domestic-partner registration ordinance. In OutFront Minnesota's experience, local leaders express support for such ordinances because they believe they enhance their city's reputation as welcoming to all families and communities, and that this is conducive to welcoming new businesses and residents.
Municipal domestic-partner registries do not affect places of worship.
A municipal domestic-partner registration ordinance is entirely a function of civil government and has no effect on places of worship. Should a place of worship choose to conduct a ceremony for domestic partners, they are of course free and welcome to do so, but no government entity may require that a place of worship recognize or act on a domestic-partner registration.