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Until yesterday, Cambridge laws had denied Lisa Schwieg and Jan B. Shafer the right to an official partnership.
But that all changed when the city's Domestic Partner Ordinance went into effect yesterday, allowing gay and lesbian couples to get recognition and benefits that previously were reserved only for husbands and wives.
Schwieg and Shafer said their registering as partners yesterday symbolized the start of a new family life for them and their nine-month-old daughter, Molly Shafer-Schwieg.
"We are and have been a family, and now we're finally recognized," Schwieg said.
The ordinance, introduced by City Councillor Alice K. Wolf in July and passed by the council in September, assures visitation rights for partners at city health and correctional facilities.
Domestic partners can also gain access to the school records of a partner's child as well as other parental rights concerning the child at school.
In addition, the ordinance provides city employees with domestic partners the same benefits as those provided for city employees with spouses, including medical insurance coverage, sick leave and bereavement leave.
Although both heterosexual and homosexual couples are granted rights by the ordinance, eight of the nine of couples who registered with the city clerk yesterday were gay.
While Schwieg and Shafer are now officially recognized as partners, they will not have all the benefits enjoyed by a married couple.
"Since neither of us are employed by the city, we aren't eligible for employee health benefits," Shafer said. "This partnership is more of a symbolic thing for us."
Schweig, a staff assistant at the Freshman Dean's Office, said she thought the formalizing of domestic partnerships should be taken further.
"If the city of Cambridge can make a change like this, Harvard as an employer in the city can do the same thing," she said.
Arthur Lipkin '68, member of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus and a research associate at the School of Education, registered for domestic partnership yesterday with his lover, Robert Ellsworth.
Lipkin called for action on the part of employers to address the domestic partner population.
"Harvard, as well as other employers in the city, could and should offer spousal benefits to its employees," Lipkin said.
However, legitimization of a relationship was the principle concern of many other registering couples.
"Although our relationship is validated in our smaller community, it is important to have our relationship validated in a larger sense," said Bonnie E. Jackman, a social worker in Boston who registered yesterday.
Mary E. Cronin, Jackman's domestic partner and a teacher in Cambridge, said the ordinance reassured her of her rights.
"[The ordinance] is very meaningful because just a week and a half ago, we saw the rights of gays and lesbians crumble in Colorado and Florida," Cronin said.
"Contrast that with Cambridge," she said. "The benefits we have gained means a lot. I feel comfortable here."
Cantabrigian Bill Barnert emphasized the symbolic nature of his partnership. "The ordinance allows the relationship to become an official sanction. It is a away for gay people to show the rest of the world that they are committed," he said.
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