A Fresh Focus On Domestic Partners

Focus on the Family is supporting legislation to provide expanded legal benefits for heads of untraditional households including gay couples


The Denver Post


We were pleasantly surprised last week when Focus on the Family expressed its support for state legislation that would provide expanded legal benefits for same-sex couples and other non-traditional households.

In the chaos of domestic-partner, civil-union and gay-marriage measures, there will be plenty of time to take sides in 2006 as state lawmakers and voters consider whether to expand the standing of same-sex couples to anything that resembles heterosexual marriage.

Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based organization of conservative Christians, has endorsed a measure by Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, that would expand legal benefits to non-married heads of households, no matter the orientation of the couple. The position seemed a contrast to the group's vigorous efforts to "preserve traditional values and the institution of the family."

The legislation itself is a direct challenge to a civil unions proposal by Rep. Tom Plant, D-Nederland, that will ask voters to grant same-sex partners a menu of rights now only extended to married couples, such as inheriting property, making medical decisions on behalf of a partner and child support arrangements.

Jim Pfaff, state policy analyst for Focus, said Mitchell's bill is a "common-sense alternative" to the domestic partnership legislation. "A domestic partnership bill based on sexual orientation is giving extra benefits to a class that has a high standard of living at the expense of other adults who are at or near the poverty level, and we believe that's discriminatory," he said.

Mitchell's bill extends a range of benefits to unmarried people who sign what he calls a "reciprocal beneficiary agreement." He says relatives, friends, roommates and same-sex couples would all be eligible.

His bill covers such a broad potpourri of relations that we wonder if it will seem reasonable to most lawmakers or voters, but such a measure opens a new front in the debate on what rights to extend in the nation's ever-increasing number of non-traditional households - living arrangements that Donna Reed would be hard-put to recognize. While benefits would include dependent health care coverage, property-sharing rights, funeral decisions and organ donations, Mitchell intentionally excluded issues related to parental or guardianship rights over a child or child-support issues. "This doesn't try to recreate the family structure," he said.

Pfaff said that while Mitchell's Senate Bill 166 includes same-sex couples, "it is not premised on sexual orientation." If it were, the group would not support it, he said.

It's a subtle way to show some tolerance in the debate over same-sex rights, and Focus also surprised some observers this week on a matter of popular culture when it endorsed the film "End of the Spear," despite the casting of a gay actor in the lead role. The movie depicts the real-life slaying of missionaries in Ecuador. Some other Christian groups bashed it because of the casting, but Focus' media critic Bob Waliszewski said his website assesses the content of entertainment offerings "rather than the skeletons in the closet of every actor, producer, cameraman. We just don't go there." What matters, he said, is that "it's a wonderful story. It's well done."