Infotrue Educational Experiences by Rick Landman

DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP HISTORY
FOR NEW YORK CITY

Before the struggle for Marriage Equality there was a struggle for recognizing our relationships through Domestic Partnership Laws. The political approach was on of incremental progress to educate and change society to accepting the concept that our relationships are just as real; and should have the same protections and benefits.

The following are several memories on how the NYC Domestic Partnership Executive Orders and Laws came into effect. History is made up of several people working together for change. Each person contributed in their own way, and when it was all done, NYC had a law that protected same-sex couples in the public and private sectors and in various aspects of life.

Saul Fishman's photo at City Hall
Disabled activists Harry Wieder & Jerry Nuzzi at the City Hall press conference


Saul Fishman's photo at City Hall
Ronnie Eldridge, Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney were among the speakers


RECOLLECTIONS OF SAUL FISHMAN

Chair, Family Diversity Coalition (CLGR) and Officer, Civil Service Bar Association

Homophobic slurs were commonplace in the workforce in the 1980s, right here in "liberal" New York City. In June 1987, I left a small Brooklyn law firm, where I frequently heard such references (even if not directed towards my then closeted self), to become an attorney for a New York City government agency. As I now had a little more time and a bit more security at work, I joined the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights ("CLGR"), which one year earlier had accomplished its stated mission (after a nine-year struggle) to pass a gay rights bill protecting gay men and lesbians against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. It was against that backdrop that a small band of activists at CLGR (most notably Eleanor Cooper, Andy Humm and Tom Smith) sought to continue the march towards greater civil rights for the LGBT community. The consensus was, now that we had certain legally recognized rights as individuals, we needed to have our fuller lives protected, including recognition and protection of our significant other. Knowing that I was living with my partner of seven years at that time, and that I appeared to have untapped potential, Eleanor encouraged me to lead the effort. Hence I became Chair of what initially was known as the Ad Hoc Committee for Domestic Partnership, and eventually the Family Diversity Coalition. We spent thousands of hours, over six years, as volunteers organizing, attending and publicizing innumerable meetings, forums and town halls with LGBT and disabled activists, as well as with public officials and their staff.

There were already a handful of small cities, most notably West Hollywood, California and Madison, Wisconsin, which had either domestic partnership resolutions or laws recognizing committed same sex couples, providing hospital visitation rights or other low-cost benefits and aspiring for more. No longer would we, in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, be barred by "immediate family only" regulations, so that only often-estranged blood relatives could make a hospital bedside visit and be consulted on medical decisions.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, no NYC politician, even those who sponsored the Gay Rights bill, would consider sponsoring gay marriage. The public simply wasn't ready for it yet. So we opted for the incremental approach. When Ruth Messinger left the City Council to become Manhattan Borough President, and when Miriam Friedlander declined the chance, we approached Carolyn Maloney to be our prime sponsor. She and her Chief of Staff John Wade, and later Andrew Lowenthal, did what they could to help us advance the idea in various ways, including resolutions and press conferences.

An upcoming election, especially a mayoral election, presents opportunities for change unlike any other moment in New York City politics. In 1989, a forum for all the candidates for Mayor was held at the LGBT Center. Mayor Ed Koch already served three terms and was trying to hang on for dear political life. David Dinkins, one of his opponents, was then Manhattan Borough President, and presented himself as a real friend of our community. Even though by now the domestic partnership effort was taking hold, and activists and the gay press knew that I was the leading proponent of domestic partnership, I was excluded from the panel asking questions of the candidates in favor of more politically connected individuals. Mayor Koch, during the course of answering questions, did say he would support domestic partnership providing that it was non-economic and that the municipal unions asked for it. Unfortunately, none of the panelists picked up on that, and none had any insight about collective bargaining.

By this point, I was on the Board of Directors of the municipal attorneys' union, the Civil Service Bar Association ("CSBA"), and had been granted access to Citywide negotiations. So I made sure to be the first person at the "open mike" as Mayor Koch was speaking. I informed Koch that citywide demand #77 was for bereavement leave upon the death of a domestic partner, and then asked him why anybody would oppose that demand, and why he didn't use his power to immediately order his Chief Negotiator to accept that demand. He replied that he was not aware of that demand, and that he would speak with him tomorrow. Indeed, Koch kept his word, and that demand was accepted at the bargaining table very shortly thereafter, and a domestic partner registry was established allowing all New Yorkers to officially register their relationship via the City Clerk.

Incidentally, in my capacity with CSBA, which is affiliated with the 25,000-member Teamsters Local 237, I was able to convince its welfare fund trustees to offer prescription drug, dental and optical benefit to members' registered domestic partners in the same manner as married spouses received those benefits. That became an important first for NYC public sector unions.

Our bill, introduced on November 20, 1990, stated "where a marital relationship is used as a factor in any decision, policy or practice, or as the basis for any right, benefit or protection, domestic partnership must be accorded the same treatment."

Unfortunately, Speaker Peter Vallone opposed legislation that would provide any meaningful recognition or benefits, and he refused to allow our bill to be voted out of committee or to have a public hearing, often veiling that opposition under pretexts such as the bill's allegedly improper format or it supposedly violating State marriage laws (Vallone ordered the Council's lawyers to prepare a memorandum declaring the bill as preempted by those laws). At my request, Art Leonard, the founder of the Bar Association for Human Rights (now the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association ("LeGaL"), prepared an excellent memorandum shooting down their specious arguments. Nonetheless, the bill remained stalled for years, despite it having a significant and ever-growing number of sponsors and co-sponsors, based upon the tremendous powers of the Council Speaker at that time vis-a-vie the Council's extremely undemocratic rules.

As I mentioned, Mayoral elections are unparalleled opportunities for making progress. Just as Koch was trying to hang on to power, four years later David Dinkins was in a similar position. Although Dinkins had a Working Group for Domestic Partnership, chaired by Judge George Daniels, most of the promised progress did not occur. The cost was always blamed, even though CSBA's welfare fund and other small-scale public and private sector early adaptors did not experience major financial strain when benefits became available on a non-discriminatory basis.

So lo and behold, Mayor Dinkins settled the Gay Teachers case in late October 1993, and granted full and equal medical and other benefits to domestic partners of city employees. Unfortunately, Mayor Dinkins waited until virtually the eve of the election, too late to mobilize our community.

Recollections of Rick Landman

Lawyer and Member of the Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Rights (CLGR)

Shortly after the 1986 passage of the New York City "Gay Rights" Bill, I remember having a meeting with the Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Rights (CLGR) to decide if we should continue our existence or close up shop. Around that time, Professor Art Leonard of New York Law School brought us a study from LA concerning Family Diversity. It showed that America's families were no longer just like Ozzie and Harriet. Also at that time, couples were having difficulties with obtaining benefits.

So we started the CLGR Family diversity Taskforce with members including Tom Smith, Saul Fishman, Eleanor Cooper and myself to look into how to best recognize same-sex relationships. The question was whether to push for same-sex marriage or domestic partnership arrangements. The vote was to go for Domestic Partnership initially since so few people in the general public even understood the concept of same-sex marriage. I was the one opposing vote that night (11 to 1). I wanted focus on the prize and not go incrementally. There were also those who opposed the institution of marriage in general feeling that it was a male dominated institution. Saul Fishman took the lead and we got to work.

I remember starting out with cutting and pasting sections from a Domestic Partnership Law from West Hollywood and Madison Wisconsin. I was asked to bring this early draft to Miriam Friedlander, who was my Councilmember, and who helped with the Gay Rights Bill. When I met with her, she wasn't very understanding or willing to be the politician to introduce it.

Art Leonard with his Committee at the NYC Bar Association developed their draft and brought it to City Councilmember Carolyn Maloney. I also remember going to meetings with unions, and moving it forward for years and through several mayoral administrations, as it was modified and expanded. I sent a request out to the other participants so they could tell their story in their own words.

Recollections of Tom Smith


Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Rights (CLGR)

This all started when you, Rick, Andy, Saul and Eleanor met in the Summer of 86 after the gay rights bill was pasted meeting with Bill Passannante. He said he would be the laughing stock of the Assembly if he introduced the bill. I remember telling him the Village had changed and there would be a lot of gays happy if he did this he just laughed it off. It was after that we began thinking about getting the benefits.

The year we met with City Councilmember Carolyn Maloney was 1987, right after or before the 1987 March on Washington.

We worked most of the time with her chief of staff John Wade. Then Peter Vallone tried to stop us having the corporation counsel stating it couldn't be introduced because it was unconstitutional. This went on for several years at the same time Ruth and Connie member of the coalition sued for the right of inheritance of pensions with the UFT. Saul Fishman worked the Teamsters and other unions to support this in their labor contracts.

NYS Senate and assembly introduced legislation based on Carolyn's legislation, and Mario Cuomo had the insurance board change policies to allow same sex couples. The rent board also held hearings to allow right of apt rights to be inherited. The 504 democratic club and other disabled groups were amongst the largest supporters and testimony at public hearings, and the concept swept the nation all because Carolyn's bill and work.

We will skip over the part where Tom Duanne and his followers tried to stop us because Tom thought he should be the one to introduce it. The bill and he wasn't elected yet. Dinkins staff worked with Saul Fishman who drafted the original executive order but didn't sign it until a few days before his failed reelection bid when he realized he was going to lose, he was supposed to have signed the previous September but Bill Lynch stopped him from doing so then.

Arthur Leonard of New York law School and Paula Eddelbrick of Lambda Legal Defense Fund worked tirelessly with Saul Fishman through months and hours of meetings. The Giuliani bill was introduced by Peter Vallone to help get him elected governor and help Giuliani get reelected and yes I had a small hand in it, even though I disliked both we got our law.

I remember the meeting well at the NY bar and Tom etc. was there but that was 2 or more years after meeting with Carolyn working with Tom Duane etc. We had already to do the bill way before they finished their study.

Recollections of Andy Humm

Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Rights (CLGR)

Dinkins stalled on his promise settling the domestic partners benefit suit that had been languishing for six years, but he did do it on the eve of his re-election bid in November 1993, which he lost to Giuliani. But he established a domestic partners registry in March 1993, which gave us the opportunity to have legal relationships recognized--helpful to private employers who were extending domestic partner benefits.

Koch, on the eve of losing his 1989 primary to Dinkins, extended domestic partner benefits for hospital visitation and bereavement leave. Even these crumbs were opposed by the Republican candidate, Giuliani, who said they had "fiscal implications." Koch, who was not known for his kindness, said Giuliani was "heartless."

But the first legal recognition of domestic partners in NY was likely the Braschi decision in July 1989 that let partners stay in stabilized apartments after the death of the lease holder--a case the Tom Duane played a large role in.

In 1997, we pressed for codification of the rights we'd won in court. Duane had a bill to do it, but Giuliani conspired with ESPA on a bill to do less comprehensively. It only codified existing rights. Duane's bill said that any right extended to a spouse going forward had to be extended to a domestic partner. ESPA made a deal with Giuliani to stay neutral in the '97 election in exchange for the promise of these crumbs. The Council passed Giuliani's bill in June 1998 at the beginning of his second term:

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/gables/dpinfo_nyc/pr319-98.html

Recollections of Professor Arthur Leonard

Professor and Founder of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association (LeGaL) formerly the Bar Association of Human Rights for Greater New York.

This is to the best of my recollections, with some quick research: The program we held at the NYC Bar Association about family diversity while I was chair of the Association's Committee on Sex and Law (from 1987 to 1990) was sparked by a Los Angeles lawyer, Tom Coleman, who was the executive director of the Family Diversity Task Force established at his prompting by the L.A. City Council. The Task Force had undertaken a study and public hearings leading to a multi-volume report to the Council, which resulted in the L.A. City Council passing one of the first domestic partnership ordinances in the country. Coleman's report brought to light the startlingly low proportion of the population that lived in conventional families consisting of married mom and dad with their "biological" children. Analysis of census data over time showed that there had been a significant increase in the proportion of "non-traditional" families from mid-century through the mid-1980s.

With support from a foundation grant, Tom and some of the Task Force members came to NYC to talk about their study and report and the resulting legislation in a public forum at the Bar Association, which I moderated, and which was attended by many city agency representatives, elected officials, and members of the bar. I believe several City Council members were there, as well as many members of their staffs.

Around this time, following up on the Braschi decision referenced by Andy Humm (Braschi v. Stahl Associates Co., 74 N.Y.2d 201 (July 6, 1989), for the first time by an appellate court recognizing some legal status for non-traditional families under the Rent Control regulations, several city council members and leaders in the LGBT political community were meeting to come up with proposed domestic partnership legislation for NYC, modeled on what had been done in LA. Among those who participated in those meetings were Ruth Messinger, Miriam Friedlander, and Carolyn Maloney. Tom Duane was very much involved. I attended some of those meetings. When this working group came up with a draft bill, the Counsel to the City Council raised objections, claiming that what we were trying to do was preempted by the state's domestic relations law. I wrote a memorandum to accompany the bill explaining the basis for the Council's jurisdiction to pass it, the Counsel's Office dropped its opposition, and the bill was subsequently introduced.

However, Mayor Dinkins' issuance of an executive order establishing a partner registry as part of a settlement of the Gay Teachers Association lawsuit against the Board of Education took the winds out of the sails for legislation, as I recall. That case had been languishing without decision for a long time before a Supreme Court Justice, Karla Moskowitz, who seemed to be afraid of the politics of ruling either way on the city's motion to dismiss the case. On August 21, 1991, she finally issued a decision denying the city's motion to dismiss the case, which lit a fire under Mayor Dinkins. (Her decision was unanimously affirmed by a 5-judge appellate division panel soon thereafter, on May 12, 1992 - see 183 A.D.2d 478.) With the A.D. affirmation, discovery would be launched, putting great pressure on the Mayor to do something as he stood for re-election. His action went beyond the teachers and established a registry and some rights for same-sex couples in all mayoral agencies as well as the board of education. But it could not affect private sector workers, or those employed by state agencies and authorities, such as the MTA, unfortunately, which were beyond his executive power.

Giuliani's legislation went a bit further than Andy indicates, but within the limitations of municipal power. This was the same problem we came up against with the DP bill - the division of power in the area of domestic relations law between the state and the city. But if you read carefully the signing statement by Giuliani, which is linked in Andy's email, you will see that his action purported to extend to partners all spousal rights recognized under NYC law - which, of course, was limited, since he could not trench on areas preempted by state or federal law. However, it was an advance, and at the time generally was considered the most comprehensive Domestic Partnership Ordinance up to that time. Ultimately, state legislation would be needed to go further, and only marriage equality could be an acceptable goal, which we finally achieved in the U.S. on June 26, 2015, with Obergefell v. Hodges from the Supreme Court. (The NY Marriage Equality statute enacted in June 2011 only took us part way, because the federal Defense of Marriage act blocked federal recognition of NY same-sex marriages; that was struck by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013, but still we needed the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling, since in the two year interim NY same-sex marriages would not be recognized by many other states. And we are still litigating issues about the scope of Obergefell, as witness the Supreme Court's ruling of June 26, 2017, Pavan v. Smith, regarding birth certificates for children born to same-sex couples.)
Paula Ettelbrick, who was an attorney with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund at that time.


Recollections OF Ruthie Berman and Connie Kurtz

Litigants (Gay Teachers Association), Ruthie was a Teacher and UFT Member

Connie and I came together in 1974/75. During the years before 1988 when we participated in the lawsuit: Gay Teachers Association suing the New York city Board of Education for DP for the Health Plan I had. We participated in organizations, and any Lesbian/Gay activity we could find in NYC. We were "new" to the Gay world. We were also new to the oppression and lack of civil rights. We joined the Gay Democratic club in Brooklyn, and also with Eleanor Cooper the Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Rights - CLGR, and the LGBT NY State Now Task Force.

In the meantime, Connie had no health insurance from her job so I had her join Workmen's Circle and she was able to get limited health insurance. I was unhappy when I heard that my colleagues could "combine" health insurance with their spouses. I was at E.R. Murrow High School at the time. I asked my payroll clerk to give me an application to add Connie on my health plan. The name Connie did not immediately indicate the sex. So, my clerk said, "No, I'm afraid I'll get into trouble". At the time I let it go.

I was subsequently excessed as a guidance counselor (that's another story), and went to Sheepshead Bay High School. My office was next door to the payroll clerk's office. We used to chat and she knew about my relationship. I asked her for an application to put Connie on my health plan. It was 1987 or so. She did not hesitate. I filled it out. I did not hear for a while.

Then came the answer on the original form..."You aren't married".

And almost to the minute that I am seeing this. I receive a phone call from either the Gay Teacher's Association, or Lambda Legal Defense Fund. Would I be willing, with Connie, to participate in a lawsuit... and the rest is History.

Our first meeting with the pro bono lawyers representing Lambda from very fine law firms, was at Sullivan and Cromwell law offices. It was there they shared what we would expect. And that our lives would be an open book, with depositions etc.

Connie and I did not want to be anonymous, though the 2 other couples did. When we were asked if we had any questions, Connie asked "Why aren't we going for marriage"?

The answer was, "We don't even think we will win this".

The 6 of us, the plaintiffs, shared with each other,"We will!"

It took till 1993. In that time the Judge, who we were happy because she was a "liberal" judge. Moskowitz, I think, held- up any hearings because she was afraid she would hurt her evaluation that year, if it was known she had a case "like this one". We personally never had to go to Court. Though there were meetings with the lawyers and the judge we did not attend. We did get updates from the lawyers. The best one was from Evan Wolfson when we were on vacation. They were ready to "sign, it looked good. Gratefully I told Evan, "Make sure retired personnel are included".


Recollections OF Amy Chasanoff

Litigant

In 1980, I started teaching in the NYC public schools. I met my then partner in 1982. Through the '80s, I was very active in the Gay Teachers' Association. In 1987, my partner was pregnant with our son. At one of the GTA's meetings, representatives from Lambda Legal Aid came to talk about a test case that they were about to work on. They wanted couples to volunteer to be the plaintiffs.

After the meeting, Meryl C. Friedman (one of the heads of GTA) called me over and she gave me a pep talk saying that we would be the perfect couple because of the baby on the way. I was nervous but I was hooked .Now all I had to do was to speak with my partner. She would only do it if we were anonymous. As the years went by, I "came out" as one of the anonymous couple. With that, we were part of a lawsuit that will be the groundwork for things to come in the future. Shortly after that, the three couples met with the lawyers involved with the case. Two of them that stood out were Paula Ettelbrick and Evan Wilson.

The first thing we had to do is bring a completed health care application to the BOE, knowing we would be turned down. Then the work really started. We had many long evenings doing depositions at the law office. Before we had the sessions they had to make sure we lived together, have bills in both our names and had inter mingling of our Finances. We also had to be together for a while. After these long sessions, they provided town cars to take us home to our apartment in Brooklyn. The lawyers met with the BOE lawyers but we never had to be in the courtroom and be cross-examined by them. Now the waiting game began.

Our son was born, and the waiting game continued. As he approached his 6th birthday, the decision was handed down! Judge Karla Moskowitz was the deciding judge and she wrote in detail why we won our case.(an aside- many years before we sued our landlord because he was withholding our deposit-Judge Moskowitz was in Housing court and she also wrote a lengthy decision. Little did we know that years later she would be ruling in our favor! There was a lot of celebrating but the work had just begun. In order for a couple to be domestic partners they had to prove that they lived together and had finances together. Whereas, a heterosexual couple just had to say they were married and the benefits were there.

Also it turned out : "TAX CONSEQUENCES OF HEALTH BENEFITS FOR DOMESTIC PARTNERS You should be aware that, under IRS rulings, if your domestic partner is not a 'dependent', within the meaning of the Internal Revenue Code, the amount paid by an employer attributable to coverage of a domestic partner is treated as part of the participant's gross income for Federal tax purposes ".

I remembered when I discussed this with Evan Wilson-he said not to worry, that will change soon and maybe we will be able to marry! Evan and many others worked tirelessly for many years until- in 2012, the Supreme Court made it legal to marry. With that couples that had paid for their partner's health care wouldn't have to do it anymore and they were able to apply for refunds from the three previous years! Evan, even if it took 19 years to do it, you were right!! In 2018, it will be the 25th anniversary of the original lawsuit.


...
...


...