Gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) last month introduced a bill that would allow couples joined in domestic partnerships or civil unions in other jurisdictions to terminate those partnerships in D.C. and have the terminations recognized by the other jurisdictions.
The Domestic Partnership Termination Recognition Amendment Act of 2013 was referred to the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which is chaired by Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). A Wells spokesperson said a public hearing on the bill has yet to be scheduled.
Ten of the Council’s 13 members, including Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), signed on as co-sponsors for Graham’s bill. Gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) and Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) were the only two who didn’t sign on as co-sponsors.
Graham told the Blade he introduced the bill after being contacted by a couple who were joined in a civil union in New Jersey and have since separated, with at least one member of the former couple now living in D.C.
The person living in D.C. told the Blade that due to a legal technicality he and his former partner could not obtain a legal dissolution of the civil union unless one of them returns to New Jersey and becomes a legal resident there for at least one year.
“There was a legal complexity to that, which this bill cuts through,” Graham said. “If you have a civil union or a domestic partnership in another city or jurisdiction you’ll be able to terminate it in the District of Columbia,” he said in describing what his bill would do.
Graham’s bill, among other things, would allow a domestic partnership to be “terminated by judicial decree or judgment” from a court rather than through the non-judicial administrative process available under current D.C. law and which often is not recognized by other states, according to gay activist Bob Summersgill, who has assisted in updating the D.C. domestic partnership law in past years.
D.C. LGBT rights attorney Michelle Zavos, who specializes in gay family law, said the existing D.C. law might allow for the termination of domestic partnerships or civil unions performed in other jurisdictions under certain conditions. But she praised Graham’s bill for making that process “much more clear.”
Graham said he welcomes suggestions from legal experts like Zavos to help him fine-tune the bill when Wells arranges for a hearing on the legislation.
At the time it approved legislation in 2009 to legally recognize marriages for same-sex couples in the nation’s capital, the D.C. Council chose to leave in place the city’s 1992 domestic partnership law, which recognizes partnerships between both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Separate legislation approved by the Council in subsequent years requires the city to recognize civil unions performed in other states and jurisdictions as domestic partnerships in D.C. if the out-of-state unions provide all of the rights and benefits of marriage.