- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Under a newly effective law, D.C. officials yesterday began issuing to unmarried couples certificates of registration allowing them to apply for health insurance benefits, 10 years after Congress began imposing barriers to prevent the law from taking effect.

The certificates, which vouch that couples are living together as domestic partners, will benefit homosexual and heterosexual couples, officials said yesterday.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and several D.C. Council members yesterday hailed the law during an outdoor ceremony next to the District's Department of Health at 825 North Capitol St., where domestic partners can now register.

"We're honoring loving couples. We're honoring families. We're promoting health insurance," said council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican and one of two openly homosexual members of the council.

Under the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act, two adults can certify they are living together by mutual consent after paying a $45 fee at a registration center. The notarized form will be kept on file at the Health Department's Vital Records Division.

The agreements are terminated by the marriage of either partner or death. A partner can also seek termination by paying a $10 fee and waiting six months.

The registration enables domestic partners to receive D.C. health care insurance coverage, for which they must pay.

It also allows partners to exercise visitation rights at hospitals or nursing homes, even if blood relatives object, and to make funeral arrangements for their partners.

City workers, now including domestic partners, can use annual leave for the birth or adoption of a dependent child.

The newly implemented law also allows domestic partners from other states to register in the District. It could allow them to acquire some privileges, like health insurance, in their home states.

"It's a human rights victory," said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative. "This bill took 10 long years, years when there was virtually no hope."

The measure, initially passed in June 1992, was able to become law when 41 Republicans joined 184 Democrats to allow the District's 2002 fiscal year budget to pass without any social riders. When President Bush signed the D.C. appropriations bill last December, it cleared the way for the city to implement the certification program.

Other states with similar laws are California, Connecticut, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Mr. Williams said such laws are recognized by 157 Fortune 500 companies, 3,960 private employers and unions, 158 colleges and universities and 129 local governments.

Mr. Catania yesterday presented the first certificates to two homosexual couples who lobbied for support of the measure for several years.

"This is reconfirmation that we have these basic rights," said Vincent Nicholas Micone III, 32, formerly of Montana, who says he has lived 10½ years with Thom Franklin Metzger, 35, formerly of Ohio, at O Street NW near Dupont Circle.

Mr. Micone is employed at the Department of Justice; Mr. Metzger works for a trade association.

The other certified partners were Larry "Deacon" Maccublin, 59, and Jim Bennett, 46, who live near Dupont Circle and operate the Lambda Rising Bookstore in the 1600 block of Connecticut Avenue. They say they have been partners for 24 years.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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