Going Through the Motions | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Going Through the Motions

We sit through city council so you don't have to

Regardless of how many times Pittsburgh City Councilors referred to the mutual-commitment registry as a piece of "housekeeping" legislation, the bill's true significance was evident even before it passed.

The bill allows unmarried, committed couples living in the city to pay a $25 fee to have their names listed on the registry, acknowledging their "mutually committed" relationship. City employees who register will be entitled to seek benefits for their domestic partners. The registry would also provide a resource for private companies that wish to offer domestic-partner benefits to their employees.

The main beneficiaries of the legislation would be GLBT couples who cannot marry under the law, although opposite-sex couples in committed relationships can register as well.

The measure's authors, Bruce Kraus and Doug Shields, stressed that it merely formalized a method for determining who was eligible for city benefits. Still, the legislation attracted far more enthusiasm than an ordinary bit of bureaucratese. Several members of the Delta Foundation, the GLBT group organizing the upcoming Pride Week festivities, came to council to receive a proclamation honoring its event. But they stayed nearly two hours to see the registry win final council approval. The group cheered -- some members cried -- at its passage.

The mayor is expected to sign the measure later this week, during Pride Week's opening festivities.

Delta board member Keri Harmicar said the bill was important because "every person in this city has a right to be happy."

The measure passed 7-1, with Councilor Bill Peduto absent and Councilor Ricky Burgess the lone "no" vote.

When reporters queried Burgess, an ordained minister, about his vote after the meeting, he declined comment. Early on, however, he showed an apparent discomfort with the issue. When Shields presented the Delta Foundation with its proclamation at the start of council's meeting, Burgess seemed in no hurry to take part in the traditional photo op. As his colleagues took their places alongside foundation members, Burgess stayed seated for several seconds before joining the group. He stood in the rear for the picture, almost directly behind a Delta member, where he was barely visible.

The measure did bring out some opponents. One elderly woman -- who declined to give her name to City Paper because "you people over there need to clean up your act" -- told councilors that "marriage was holy" and likened the city to "Sodom and Gomorrah" with "that kind of misbehavior."

The measure passed anyway. As of press time, the wrath of God has not yet rained down on the city.

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