Same-sex partnerships get St. Paul’s blessing

This piece is cross-posted at The Pioneer Press.

The Pioneer Press
Minneapolis-St.Paul MN
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The gathering at Camp, a downtown St. Paul gay hot spot, was more
celebratory than usual Wednesday. And one could tell by the way
many of the nightclub’s patrons completed each other’s sentences
that some of them had been together for decades.

Dan Hanson, 61, of St. Paul, started talking about the day’s
events: “This will be a nice legitimate step. It’s …”

“It’s a steppingstone,” Keith Grennier, 61, of St. Paul, said,
finishing the sentence of his partner of 32 years.

Hours earlier, the city council passed a resolution recognizing
same-sex partnerships, making St. Paul the third city in Minnesota
to do so.

After Council Member Lee Helgen, the ordinance’s co-sponsor, tried
to get Mayor Chris Coleman to offer up his signature on a cocktail
napkin during happy hour at Camp, someone showed up with the actual
paperwork, which Coleman promptly put his pen to.

“Equality is equality is equality,” Coleman said, garnering a round
of applause. “You can’t have equality for some and not for

“Welcome to St. Paul, the city of family values,” added Council
Member Dave Thune, the measure’s other co-sponsor.

The resolution allows unmarried couples — same-sex or not — to
pay $20 and receive a certificate, making their partnership
somewhat official.

Still, many gay rights supporters note that state law prohibits
governments from extending health care benefits to unwed couples,
and it’s unclear how much legal weight the certificate will

“I think it’s a really good symbolic St. Paul gesture. That’s as
far as it goes,” said C.J. Griffiths, 25, of St. Paul.

The measure passed unanimously 6-0, with Council Member Dan Bostrom
absent. During a public hearing on the measure last week, not a
single person spoke against it.

Camp patrons noticed.

“I’m surprised there wasn’t any resistance,” Griffiths said, “but I
would expect in a place like St. Paul you won’t have that real
vocal nasty rhetoric.”

“We love St. Paul. I guess I have to ask why wasn’t this done a
long time ago,” said Thomas Nechodomu, 30, who married his partner,
John Reviere, 35, in San FranciscoCalifornia. last year when
same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in

Similar measures exist in Minneapolis and Duluth. OutFront
Minnesota legal director Phil Duran said three more cities are
considering it.

But amid the smiles, a familiar phrase repeatedly arose:
“steppingstone.” Activists look toward the Capitol, where
legislation that would improve the legal status and shared benefits
for same-sex couples has been repeatedly brushed back.

“This is a nice step … but it is not enough,” Coleman said to

Still, as happy hour wound down, many touted Wednesday’s vote as a
pleasant, perhaps even unifying, moment.

“Anything that can help show we have this commitment of love
together and in our daily lives, I think, is important,” said Jane
Leonard, 52, of St. Paul, who has been with her partner 27 years.
“It’s a moment where we (as a city) say, ‘OK, we all agreed to
commit to this. We’ll see where that takes us.’ “

In other business, the council voted 4-2 to pass a proposal
mandating that 1 percent of the budgeted costs of city building
projects go toward creating public art, ranging from a mural to
actual structural elements of a bridge, as long as an artist
designs it.

Council President Kathy Lantry and Council Member Pat Harris voted
against the proposal, with Lantry calling the proposal ” too broad”
and noting it mandates maintenance costs for such projects,
possibly leaving other city works — which lack mandated funding
— in the red. Harris said that the “methodology (of the
legislation) isn’t prudent” and that it would “confuse the
contracting process.”

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