Changing Families, Benefits

Cambridge Considers Domestic Partnership Ordinance

Cambridge resident Margaret Cerullo and her lover Marla Erlin share most of the usual parental concerns it comes to raising their two year old adopted daughter, sophie. Like other parents, they want to be actively involved in overseeing her education at the Cambridge public school she will attend.

Unlike heterosexual couples, through, Cerullo and Erlin will have to deal with an obstacle to participating fully and equally in Sophie's education. When Sophie goes to School, there is the chance that one of her mothers will not be recognized by the school as her parent because the women are not married. One could legally be prevented from signing Sophie out of school or attending parent-teacher conferences and open houses.

But that could change. Creole spoke last night at a meeting of the city's ordinance committee to express her support for a proposed law that would make their partnership legally binding in Cambridge. The ordinance would ensure that Sophia never hears that "one of us is not really her mother," Creole said.

Citing statistics that show only 25 percent by he traditional nuclear family, City Councilor Alice K. Wolf

introduced a "domestic partnership" ordinanceWednesday night. The law would make Cambridge thefirst city in Massachusetts to extend to unmarriedcouples some of the rights currently enjoyed by"traditional" families.

The law, many say, will allow 'nontraditionalfamilies," those headed by unmarried and/orhomosexual couples, "to live in dignity."


And both opponents and supporters of theproposed law say that the ordinance will mostlikely be approved on a five-to-four vote when theit reaches a meeting of the full City Council thisSeptember.

The bill was researched and written two yearsago under by a working group under the guidance ofthen-Mayor Wolf. It would allow unmarriedcouples--both heterosexual and homosexual--to gaina "domestic partnership" license from city hallfor the same fee as a marriage license.

Such a documents would allow non-biologicalparents access to the school records of thechildren of a domestic partner. Members of adomestic partnerships would be guaranteed theright to visit the other partner at Cambridgehospitals when access to him of her becomesrestricted to family members.

In addition, the ordinance would allowCambridge employees to enroll their domesticpartners in the city's health insurance programs.

Gay rights activists applaud the ordinance.

"To me the passage of the ordinance is a simplematter of economic equity and social justice,"said Sue Hyde, a member of the Cambridge gayrights group Lavender Alliance and the workinggroup which drafted the law.

"There's a high level of interaction that goeson between schools and parents," Hyde says. "It'sfundamentally impractical for a parent notinteract with the school system on behalf of [hisor her] children."

Although the school system has rarelymarginalized one of a child's parents, Hyde whoselover is expecting a baby in October, says the lawis necessary to safeguard her status as a parent.

"Some person might take it upon him or herselfthat I am not a parent but a problem," she said.

While no citizens spoke against the ordinanceWednesday night, the proposed law has generatedsubstantial controversy because of its provisionthat extends health benefits to domestic partners.