Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Phoenix Domestic-Partner Registry in the Works

PHOENIX (Observer Update) - Just a month after Arizona voters passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, the state's largest city is poised to create a program that would grant hospital-visitation rights to unmarried Gay or straight couples who live together, the Arizona Republic reported.

The Phoenix City Council will consider making the city just the second in Arizona to offer its residents a domestic-partner registry. Tucson launched a similar program in 2003. The city has been working on the registry with Phoenix hospitals for the past five years and proponents say it's critical to move forward now to give tens of thousands of Phoenix domestic partners the same rights that family members have when visiting sick loved ones.

"It boils down to a basic human right, and as we enter this holiday season, the issue is even more pronounced," said Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot, one of a handful of openly Gay elected officials in the Valley. "If you are sick or injured and lying in a hospital bed, you should have the right to have your significant other at your bedside," Simplot said.

Critics, however, question why a public agency needs to inject itself into what they consider a private matter. Lionel Lyons, who heads Phoenix's Equal Opportunity Department, said the city has carefully reviewed all cost and security issues. The registry is expected to pay for itself and will not require any taxpayer dollars, he added. The City Clerk Department, Phoenix's official record keeper, would process all paperwork.

To be eligible for the registry, domestic partners must appear at City Hall in person and sign a notarized document stating that they share a residence in Phoenix, are not married to another individual, are in a committed relationship, are not closely related by blood and are 18 years or older. Arizona law recognizes domestic partners on a list of people who are entitled to visit a patient in the hospital or make medical decisions. But parents and adult children are prioritized before domestic partners, giving partners little legal footing when it comes to the care of their loved ones.

The only right that the registry guarantees is partner visitation at any hospital, clinic, nursing home or other health-care facility in Phoenix, unless visitors are not allowed or the patient opts not to see his or her partner. But city officials say the registry could also be used to prove a domestic partnership to public agencies, employers and businesses for things like health or dental insurance. If approved by the Council, the registry would take effect Feb. 9.

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