Domestic Partner Bills Tabled Council Was Going To Take Them Up Today. They Were Deferred At Rendell's Request. He Didn't Have The Votes.

Posted: June 02, 1993

A showdown over bills that would have expanded the rights of unmarried homosexual and heterosexual couples was called off yesterday when Mayor Rendell asked City Council leaders to table the controversial legislation rather than face certain defeat on the Council floor.

The two bills - one that would have extended health and pension benefits to partners of gay and lesbian city employees and another that would also have

applied to unmarried heterosexual couples - were to have been taken up today by Council sitting as a full committee.

But yesterday Rendell sent a letter to Council President John F. Street, who announced his opposition to the bills Thursday, asking that the committee ''defer further consideration" of the bills.

"I did this because, after counting votes, I simply did not have close to a majority for either bill," Rendell said. The mayor estimated that he had only six or seven votes on the 17-member Council for each of the bills.

"I remain committed to the idea that sparked this legislation. I think that we will go back to the drawing board and we will try to refine some of the legislation," Rendell said.

The mayor said he envisioned an even more inclusive bill that would grant domestic partnership rights to "brothers who live together for a long time, sisters who live together for a long time and who wish to have the person that they live with covered."

Leaders in the gay community praised Rendell for his efforts and blamed Street for the demise of the bills, which would have recognized the partnerships of couples who paid a $25 fee and made a commitment to "share the common necessities of life and to be responsible for each other's welfare."

Only moments after Rendell's announcement, a group of Protestant and Jewish religious leaders went ahead with a scheduled ecumenical service in support of the legislation at St. Stephen's Church in Center City.

Rita Addessa of the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force said she was hopeful several similar events would be held before the legislation is reintroduced in the fall. That, she said, would counteract the "bigoted message" being conveyed by other religious leaders.

Street, who last week said he opposed the legislation because it would undermine the institution of marriage, said yesterday that he thought Rendell's decision "was an appropriate thing to do."

"Clearly there was not the support for these bills on the City Council at this time," Street said.

Rendell's action delays, for now, a confrontation with Council at a time when the two sides are bracing for a battle over a bill that would establish an advisory board to hear complaints about police misconduct.

Two weeks ago, Council passed such a bill over Rendell's protest. The measure passed, 11-6, one vote shy of the number needed to override a mayoral veto. Rendell has until tomorrow to either veto the bill or allow it to become law without his signature.

Yesterday the mayor declined to say whether he would veto the police review board.

Early on in the debate over the domestic partnership bills, some Council members had threatened to hold the legislation hostage in exchange for Rendell's support on the police review board.

But yesterday both Street and Rendell said that the partnership legislation withered on its own merits.

A week ago, supporters and opponents of the legislation packed Council chambers for a 10-hour hearing on the bills. Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua was both booed and cheered as he read a five-page speech denouncing the legislation as immoral. Earlier the cardinal had solicited the support of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, the Christian Action Council and the leadership of the local Muslim community.

Rendell acknowledged that the opponents of the measures presented a more effective lobby than the supporters of the bills.

"I never viewed it as an attempt to legitimize gay marriages," Rendell said. "I think it was an attempt to have people who have a caring relationship, whether that was a gay relationship, or sisters or brothers who have a caring relationship, to provide coverage for someone who is uncovered and who they care very much about. I don't think that should be the exclusive prerogative of people who are married."

Pennsylvania law does not permit marriage between people of the same sex. In addition to extending health and pension benefits to domestic partners, registered partners also would have avoided paying the realty transfer tax when passing ownership of property to a partner.

Marjorie Dugan, the executive director of the Fellowship Commission, which organized the ecumenical ceremony, termed Rendell's decision unfortunate. She said it was also unfortunate that the media gave widespread coverage to statements by religious leaders opposed to the legislation, while only a handful of reporters covered the service in support of it.

At that ecumenical ceremony, the Rev. Dr. Gilbert Caldwell of the United Methodist Church said, "There are those of us in the religious community who are sure enough of our faith to support this legislation."

"We must demand that the domestic partnership legislation be passed," said Rabbi Linda Holtzman.

"We're saying that the impression has been given that the religious community is against the bill. That is not the case," said the Rev. Theodore Loder of the Methodist Church of Germantown.

Al Patrick, editor of the Philadelphia Gay News, said, "I think the mayor has his heart in the right place on this issue." But when Street came out against the bill, Patrick said, "I think (Rendell) knew that the battle was almost lost.

"I think Rendell realizes the political strategy in trying to get a bill like this passed. Hopefully he can build a better coalition rebuilding the bill and try again. This is by no means an end."

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