The Missoula City Council began last week hashing out whether to create a partnership registry that would recognize gay couples in committed long-term relationships.
"I think it sends a message," says Councilwoman Caitlin Copple, who introduced the proposal. "We recognize the dignity of all."
Montana law does not provide same-sex partners the same benefits afforded to their heterosexual peers, including tax breaks and automatic inheritance rights. Missoula Senior Deputy City Attorney Keithi Worthington notes that the registry, if approved by council in the coming weeks, would not change that. "It doesn't confer any legal rights," she says.
Copple is hopeful, however, that cards issued to each member of a couple listed on the registry could help, for instance, when first responders work to quickly identify what's going on amid a health crisis.
"The paramedics would know," Copple says.
The registry would also be open to unmarried heterosexual couples. Partners would have to demonstrate that they share household obligations, such as a title to shared property, a lease agreement or evidence of a joint bank account. They would have to be at least 18 years old and have cohabited for at least one year. Once registered, couples would receive a letter from the city along with two cards recognizing the relationship. Their names would be kept in a publicly accessible database. Phone numbers and addresses would remain confidential.
Copple aims use the registry as part of a broader effort approved by city council on June 24 that commits Missoula to working to earn high marks on the Human Rights Campaign's "Municipal Equality Index," a nationwide measure of laws that affect the LGBT community.
The idea behind scoring high on the equality index goes beyond branding Missoula a welcoming community. Copple also sees it as a means to help grow the local economy by luring new talent and ingenuity, or what's referred to as the "creative class," composed of, as Copple says, "scientists, engineers, architects, designers, writers, artists, musicians, business people, educators, health care providers and lawyers." Citing research from professor and author Richard Florida, Copple notes that the creative class employs about a third of the American workforce and communities who woo it have fared better economically than their more homogeneous counterparts.
"It turns out that the creative class also really likes the gays," Copple says.