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Hearing Before the New York City Council General Welfare Committee on Intro. 303, The "Domestic Partnership" Bill

June 22, 1998



Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am Morton Avigdor, associate general counsel of Agudath Israel of America. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to express Agudath Israel's opposition to Intro. 303, the "domestic partnership" bill.

This bill would elevate the status of "domestic partnership" into the legal equivalent of marriage for purposes of New York City law. Its details are spelled out in many pages of complicated statutory legalese, but its message is simple: in New York City, the traditional institution of marriage no longer occupies its singularly favored status. That message, we fear, does substantial violence to values for which civilized societies have stood since time immemorial.

Let me start with a brief comment on the issue that has attracted the most attention in the debate over domestic partnership legislation: the authority it would extend to gay couples to enter into a government-sanctioned quasi-marital relationship. On this point, I wish to reiterate Agudath Israel's longstanding opposition to any formal legal recognition of same sex relationships. In our view, the law ought not place its imprimatur of social legitimacy upon relationships that so many citizens find objectionable on religious, moral and historical grounds.

It is noteworthy that unlike the city's "gay rights" law, which expressly disavows any intention of endorsing the homosexual lifestyle, this bill contains no such disclaimer. From a jurisprudential standpoint, if one regards statutory law as not merely a means of regulating conduct, but also as the embodiment of a society's values, the absence of any suggestion that domestic partnership relationships raise controversial moral concerns is telling -- and, from our perspective, troublesome.

Much the same can be said about the legal status the legislation would offer heterosexual couples living together without the sanction of marriage. Indeed, in certain ways, the bill is even more troubling with respect to unmarried heterosexual couples than it is with respect to homosexual couples.

New York State does not recognize "common law marriage". The sole means by which man and woman can become husband and wife is through compliance with the statutory provisions of the state's Domestic Relations Law. A man and woman who live together, and who are capable of formalizing their relationship through marriage yet consciously choose not to, certainly deserve no reward for having made that conscious choice.

Indeed, at a time when there has been much criticism of the concept of "no-fault divorce" because of the devastating impact divorce has on so many children, it is difficult to comprehend why any legislative body would seek to promote formal legal relationships between men and women that can be terminated through the mere filing by one of the parties of a "termination statement" with the city clerk, without even going through the process of divorce. Under Intro. 303, children who are the product of a heterosexual domestic partnership relationship are basically left with no protection whatsoever against the sudden decision of one of their parents to terminate the relationship. Those children, we submit, deserve better.

Agudath Israel's view is that social policy should acknowledge the traditional family structure as an asset well worth preserving. That structure has proven to be the best means of maintaining social stability and health. It deserves to retain its singular status. The symbols government should adopt are those that strengthen the beleaguered institutions of marriage and family, not undermine them. Measured by that standard, Intro. 303 poses serious concerns. We urge its defeat.

Thank you for your attention to our concerns.

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