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Domestic Partnership Benefits

Congressman Frank Riggs versus San Francisco

Copyright © 1998, 2003 by David E. Ross

The city of San Francisco has a local ordinance requiring any company doing business with the city to provide the same fringe benefits to unmarried employees with domestic partners with as if they were married couples. This applies not only to stationers selling paper clips to the city but also airlines using the city-owned airport, insurance companies writing liability or casualty insurance on city facilities, and the automobile companies supplying squad cars to the city police. City leaders claim that this ordinance reflects the reality of today's society, in which many households are formed by two adults who — without marriage — support each other financially, emotionally, and socially. This ordinance covers heterosexual and homosexual couples, couples that are siblings, and even parent-child couples.

Congressman Frank Riggs (R, California) objects to San Francisco's imposing this requirement onto businesses. Sponsoring a law that would invalidate this ordinance in any situation where federal money pays even a small part of the city's contracts, Riggs stated: "It is wrong to elevate a domestic relationship, whether heterosexual or homosexual, to the same status as the sacred union of marriage, between a man and a woman." Riggs's proposal passed the House of Representatives 214-212. It now goes to an uncertain fate in the Senate.

Forget the "sacred union"; marriage is also a legal relationship. Under the law, a married person has both privileges and obligations. I have long opposed the concept that a person living with another without "that scrap of paper" (a marriage license) could claim the rights of a married person without having to accept the responsibilities of a married person. A woman who is free to leave a relationship merely by packing her bags and walking out should have no claim on community property, which are the combined assets accumulated by a couple while married. A man who can terminate a relationship by saying "good-bye" should have no right to assert spousal privilege against testimony in a criminal case by his unmarried companion.

From my comments immediately above, you might think I support Congressman Riggs's legislation. However, Congressman Riggs is a hypocrite! He wants spousal rights to be limited to those who are actually married, but he also wants to prohibit homosexual marriages. He is among those who decry the instability of gay and Lesbian relationships but refuse to allow the legally stabilizing effect of gays and Lesbians marrying.

Yes, I think spousal benefits, rights, and privileges should indeed be restricted to those who are actually married. But I also think that same-gender marriages should be legal. And until they are legal, I support San Francisco's ordinance.

As for the "sacred union", there are some long-established, main-stream religions that support civil marriages for same-gender couples. In my own religion, official resolutions have been adopted expressing this support by both lay and ordained national conventions. Do not let Congressman Riggs make you think there is universal religious opposition to gay and Lesbian marriages. The opposition arises from a very few, well-organized, vocal religious sects that are using this issue to seize control of the Republican party.

30 July 1998

I did a little historical research while reformatting this page.

Riggs's proposal — an amendment to an appropriations bill — did not survive the legislative process. The amendment did not survive in the Senate and was not reintroduced during the House-Senate conference.

Riggs himself is no longer in Congress. He attempted to run for Senator in 1998, hoping to unseat the incumbent Barbara Boxer (D). He was defeated in the Republican primary before he introduced his amendment and never had a chance to go against Boxer. Boxer is still a U.S. Senator from California. Her record is quite supportive of rights for gays.

6 November 2003

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