A domestic partnership law passed by the West Hollywood City Council will allow homosexual and heterosexual couples to register their relationships with the new city.
But while the new ordinance gives domestic partners hospital and prison visitation rights and eventually will enable the council to provide medical insurance and other benefits to the partners of city employees, the law is not expected to have much legal effect.
The new law does have strong symbolic value in West Hollywood, which has a homosexual community estimated at about 30% of the city's 35,000 residents. Mayor Valerie Terrigno, who sponsored the bill, also justified the new law as a way for elderly residents to save money by living together. Terrigno has said she may sponsor a law that would prevent landlords from raising rents when two people set up a domestic partnership.
West Hollywood, incorporated in November, is the second city officially to recognize its residents' non-marital relations. Berkeley passed a similar law last year. The two cities differ, however, in that Berkeley requires domestic partners to live in the same dwelling. West Hollywood's law has no such provision.
The council has set up a residents committee to search for insurance firms willing to cover domestic partners of city employees. Berkeley officials say many insurance firms have been reluctant to provide benefits to non-married couples. Officials in both cities insist, however, that if outside insurers are not found, they will be able to develop self-insurance programs covering domestic partners.