U City Approves Domestic Partnership Ordinance; Dozens Speak Out For and Against It
A heated debate led to a vote where University City Councilmembers approved an ordinance establishing a Domestic Partnership Registry.
Holding a Bible in her hand, Joan Schneider of Ballwin urged councilmembers to vote against an ordinance that would create a domestic partnership registry in University City.
"I don't think University City wants to be known as the only city to legislate sin in the United States," Schneider said, at Monday night's city council meeting.
More than a dozen people spoke out both for and against the ordinance. The council ended up passing the bill with all but Councilmember Arthur Sharpe voting in favor of it. Earlier in the evening, his wife gave an impassioned speech against the ordinance.
"This bill should never have been introduced," said Marian Sharpe. "Please, don’t ask me to support that which God says is wrong."
Ms. Sharpe said that she was disappointed in Councilmember Terry Crow and Mayor Shelley Welsch, who worked jointly on the ordinance. Ms. Sharpe said that although her husband knew she was going to speak at the meeting, he did not know what she was going to say.
After the meeting, Councilmember Sharpe commented on his wife's speech. "I'm a Christian also. Her beliefs are mine," he told University City Patch.
Sharpe expressed support for his wife as well as for Councilmember Crow. "Where as I am very supportive of Councilmember Crow, I feel very strongly about what he's doing. I am in love with and married to Marian Sharpe. So, I will vote no on this bill."
The majority of the vocal opposition came from residents outside of University City.
Stephanie Rubach, who lives in St. Peters and is a conservative community organizer, said the bill had the potential to lead to the destruction of family. She said the ordinance erodes traditional marriage in America, especially in the black community. She was adamant that gay unions were not a civil rights issue.
"My skin color has nothing to do with personal behavior," she said.
However, her comments did not sit well with Councilmember Byron Price.
"Homosexual behavior has nothing to do with a lack of success of black folk," he said.
Price said people who pay taxes in University City should have the same rights that he has.
Former State Representative Cynthia Davis, who represents St. Charles County and lives in O'Fallon, MO argued against the ordinance. She said people should not be given preferential treatment because of their private habits and practices.
She told Patch that the state clearly defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, and the actions by the council, "are clearly an effort by the city to try and come up with a way around the law."
Two lesbian couples who spoke in support of the ordinance each said it was a step in the right direction.
"I am here this evening with my partner of 25 years. I am delighted to have the council vote on this tonight. It makes me feel proud to be a citizen of University City," Margaret Johnson said.
U City resident Arlene Zarembka balked at comments from people who said the ordinance gives gay people preferential treatment. She said the ordinance was merely a small step toward gays and lesbians achieving equal rights in society. Zarembka was joined at the podium by her partner of more than 28 years.
"Do not tell us that we do not have family values," she said, after saying the two women had cared for all four of their elderly and ailing parents.
Zarembka also hit back at claims made by some people at Monday night's meeting that gay relationships erode heterosexual marriages.
"Don’t blame us for problems you might have. Anybody here who thinks that somehow our relationship creates problems in your marriage, that is a non sequitur," Zarembka said.
"We can't treat people differently," said Councilmember Lynn Ricci, who supported the ordinance.
Councilmember Stephen Kraft, said he was deeply moved by the hearing. He acknowledged the council was limited in what it could do, but he hoped University City would lead by example. He specifically hoped the St. Louis County Council would enact its own ordinance.
Dozens of people in the audience stood up and clapped after council approved the bill.
Monday night's action means University City is now the first municipality in St. Louis County to adopt a domestic partnership ordinance. It gives same-sex partners and couples who live together the same rights as spouses in many situations, including visitation rights at health facilities and correctional institutions. Domestic partners would also be granted decision making power on health care issues.
Mayor Shelley Welsch and Councilmember Terry Crow both worked on the ordinance and brought it jointly to the the City Council.
Councilmember Crow, who has two children with his longtime partner, called it a great night.
"The number of our University City residents who spoke in favor, I thought was absolutely incredible. And I thought the comments from my colleagues on the council were truly heartwarming."
Crow's partner, Tom Peters, attended Monday's council meeting and said, "I'm proud for our family. I'm proud of Terry and the rest of the council for making a very important decision."
Mayor Welsch was pleased that the ordinance was approved by council. She hoped that it would spur other local governments to act.
"I think we have a bill that other municipalities and St. Louis County could use as a model. That's what we're hoping will happen," she said.
To register a domestic partnership, two adults must share a common residence, consider each other immediate family, affirm that they share responsibility for each other’s common welfare, not be married to a third party, not be part of an existing domestic partnership with any third party and be 18 years of age or older. The cost to register a partnership will be $45. Mayor Welsch said the registry will officially open on June 1st.
The City of St. Louis, Kansas City, MO and Columbia, MO also have domestic partnership registries. However, U City's ordinance is essentially a symbolic gesture as it would not be legally binding outside of U City.
Councilmember Crow said the true importance of the ordinance is that it allows University City to reaffirm its beliefs about showing respect for people who are in a committed relationship, particularly for same-sex couples.
Under Missouri law, same-sex marriages are prohibited. The state recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman. The state statute on marriage and marriage contracts states, "A marriage between persons of the same sex will not be recognized for any purpose in this state even when valid where contracted."