New York council backs domestic partnerships
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The New York City Council voted Thursday to recognize gay marriages from other jurisdictions, extending a number of rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples.
"We voted to make it so that people who are registered domestic partners, members of civil unions or gay marriages from other jurisdictions, will now be recognized as registered New York city domestic partners," said Council Member Christine Quinn, who co-sponsored the measure.
"I think it's a big deal symbolically because it's New York kind of going as far as we can in relationship law," Quinn said. "It's also a big deal because it's New York City trying to make relations as equal as we possibly can."
Under current city ordinances, same-sex couples who move to the New York must register as domestic partners and then wait a year before being eligible for such rights as health benefits, she said.
Under the new law, they would be eligible immediately if they moved from a place such as Holland, were same-sex unions are recognized, she said. "If you move from the Netherlands, we can't say, 'We recognize you as Mr. and Mr. Smith who are husband and husband.' But we can say, 'We will convey to you all the rights and benefits we convey to New York City residents who have registered as domestic partners as soon as you move to the city -- without having to re-register.' "
Among other things, the law grants visitation rights to same-sex couples in city-run hospitals; succession rights to apartments under city jurisdiction; and the ability of a person to apply for various licenses and permits on behalf of their domestic partner.
City employees registering their domestic partnerships also are eligible for a number of spousal benefits, such as bereavement leave and medical and dental benefits.
The issue has gained in importance since the World Trade Center attacks of last September, Quinn said.
"The only gay couples who even stand a chance of getting all the benefits of World Trade Center survivors are registered domestic partners," she said.
The Empire State Pride Agenda, a statewide gay and lesbian civil rights organization, praised the council for passing the bill.
"New York City has taken a much-needed step that we hope will be followed by other jurisdictions throughout the United States," said Joe Grabarz, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.
"We do not ask those in traditional marriages to re-register their marriage in every jurisdiction to ensure legal recognition of their relationship," said Grabarz. "Nor should we ask those in same-sex relationships to do the same."
Given its symbolism among religious groups, the council's use of the word "marriage" within the context of same-sex marriage is probably the most controversial aspect of the bill, the gay-rights group said.
Only Dutch same-sex married couples moving to or visiting New York City fall under the "marriage" provision of the bill, as only the Netherlands has legalized marriage between same-sex couples.
Vermont is the only state in which same-sex partners can enter into a civil union. But at least eight states and more than 100 city and county governments provide some type of domestic partner recognition and benefits.
Debate over the bill was "a little more heated than I had anticipated," Quinn said, with only one of the four Republicans on the council voting in favor.
CNN was not immediately able to contact any of those who voted against the bill.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not expected to oppose the measure, which passed 34-7 with four abstentions, Quinn said.