A Brief History of Domestic Partnerships

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IT WAS THIRTY YEARS AGO, in 1978, that the city of Berkeley passed a sexual orientation non-discrimination ordinance whereby the city promised to provide equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation. When Tom Brougham began working for the city of Berkeley in 1979, he found that he could not sign up his life-partner, Barry Warren, for health and dental benefits because they were available only to the married spouses of city employees.

Brougham saw an opportunity to test the new anti-discrimination legislation in a way that the city had not considered. Berkeley had resolved not to discriminate based on sexual orientation, but marriage was assumed to be the sole vehicle for providing benefits to committed couples. Since marriage was defined by state law, Brougham saw a contradiction that could not produce an equitable outcome for same-sex couples. So he started to think outside the box. In two letters dated August 21, 1979, Brougham described the problem and proposed a solution.

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