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515 Reasons Contracts Aren’t Enough

By Lavender November 20, 2008

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Some Minnesotans assume that committed same-sex couples and unmarried domestic partners can gain the same rights and protections denied by discriminatory laws by signing legal documents and contracts. This simply is not true. Project 515 is dedicated to debunking this common misperception, a concept that is pushed by those opposed to equal recognition for same-sex couples.

Even if couples are willing and able to incur the expense of obtaining legal counsel, many of the rights and responsibilities automatically provided to married couples cannot be replicated by signing legal documents or contracts. That’s the law.

“There is a huge misperception that same-sex couples simply need to sign various legal documents that will force the law to recognize their relationship as if they were a married, straight couple,” according to University of Minnesota Law Professor Dale Carpenter. “Because of this misperception, lots of people think the fight for equality is over—they think same-sex couples can have the same rights as married couples.”

In reality, no amount of “contracting” and no signed legal document will provide certain benefits. And even if they do provide benefits and responsibilities, they simply may be ignored.

For example, no contracts or legal documents would allow a same-sex couple access to Minnesota’s family court system in the same manner that the law provides access for heterosexual, married couples. No contract can require a family court judge to recognize a same-sex couple just as he or she would recognize a heterosexual, married couple.

Similarly, same-sex couples can provide for each other in a will, as a beneficiary doesn’t need to be married to the benefactor. However, this assumes that the same-sex couple has enough money to visit an attorney, and work out the sometimes-complicated details. It should be noted, however, that if a straight, married person dies without a will, state statute provides that his or her spouse automatically receives the estate. In other words, a straight, married couple has automatic protections.

Again, anyone can take out life insurance, payable to a named beneficiary, with no requirement that he or she be married, or even in a committed relationship. However, numerous state statutes provide benefits to the surviving spouse of state government workers. Just to name a few, Minnesota statutes allow the spouses of most firefighters, teachers, state legislators, law enforcement officers, and active members of the Minnesota State Patrol to receive benefits from the state should a spouse die. No amount of contracting between a same-sex couple will allow for a remaining same-sex partner to be recognized in a similar way. Simply put, if government employees should die, their same-sex partners will not be covered under state benefit plans.

“True, same-sex couples do have the ability to sign legal documentation recognizing their relationship in many of the same ways that straight couples can,” Carpenter said. “However, these legal documents don’t and can’t cover all aspects of the law.”

Project 515, an organization dedicated to changing the 515 Minnesota state statutes that discriminate against same-sex couples, will bring these sorts of issues to the 2009 legislative session to be corrected. Our goal is to ensure that same-sex couples and families are treated equally under the law.

We’re busy working on our legislative agenda. But we need your help to pursue change that strengthens all Minnesota families. Visit us at www.project515.org or on Facebook, and join our list of supporters. It’s going to take all of us to change the debate about same-sex relationships and the landscape in Minnesota, establishing equality for all couples.

Laura Smidzik is Executive Director of Project 515. Help Project 515 work for equality by telling us your story, or by donating your time or money. Go to www.project515.org. We’re on Facebook! Join our group—we’d love to have you.

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