Mayor Robert F. Gentry on Tuesday is expected to propose the first bill in Orange County granting gay and lesbian couples some of the same legal rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.
Known as the domestic partnership ordinance, the measure is already in effect in a few cities nationwide and will be read for the first time during next week’s City Council meeting.
If approved, homosexual couples, as well as heterosexual couples living together, will be able to register after May 21 for a domestic-partner certificate recognizing their relationship under some legal contracts.
“As an openly gay person, this is the first time in my life that I can have my relationship validated by a community government which I serve and under whose jurisdiction I live,” Gentry said Friday.
The certificate, costing about $25, would extend the status of family member to homosexual and unmarried couples in certain situations, such as local hospital or jail visits. It would also be valid in probate matters and funeral arrangements in the event of a partner’s death.
It is valid statewide, Gentry added, if the couples choose to enter into a durable power of attorney agreement in health-care decisions.
The move to introduce the bill is a personal one for Gentry, whose partner of 15 years died of AIDS in 1989. At that time, Gentry wrangled with a Newport Beach hospital over custody of the body.
Gentry said he spent two years studying the effects of the bill in other cities, such as San Francisco, Berkeley and West Hollywood.
“I wanted ours to be the most thorough and best in the country,” he said. “I wanted to wait to see how they resolved issues.”
Widely known for its tolerance of non-traditional lifestyles, Laguna Beach has taken a series of steps within recent years to protect them.
Last year, the city extended medical and dental benefits to unmarried partners of city employees. In 1984, it passed an anti-discrimination law protecting its sizable gay and lesbian population.
If adopted Tuesday, the domestic partnership ordinance will be read before the City Council a second time on April 21, when it will likely be approved by a majority of the members.
“It’s a good thing,” said Councilwoman Lida Lenney. “The traditional family, with a mother staying home with the kids, doesn’t exist for many people in our society. I think the citizens in Laguna Beach will be very supportive of this measure.”
Dan Wooldridge, chairman of the board for the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Orange County, said, “Besides the legal advantages, there are psychological and social advantages. Gay and lesbian couples need to have their arrangements sanctioned by the state.”
Kevin Campbell, president of the UC Irvine Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Student Union, said he hoped the measure would pave the way “for a statewide domestic partnership law.”
Conservatives, on the other hand, expressed anger at the proposal. The Rev. Lou Sheldon, chairman of Traditional Values Coalition, a lobbying group in Anaheim representing several churches in the county, said the measure “sends other messages.”
“There’s no need to introduce this,” Sheldon said. “It’s another way to try to validate a belief and lifestyle by changing the values and beliefs of the community.”
In response, Gentry said, “Orange County residents are very intelligent, very thoughtful and extremely open. Like anything first or new, it will take a little time for people who are skeptical at first blush. But I’m confident they will become strong supporters of it when they learn more about it.”