SAN FRANCISCO -- The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed legislation establishing domestic partnerships for non-married couples, including homosexuals, who live together in 'initmate and committed' relationships.
The measure, which must be voted upon again next week to receive final passage, would grant San Francisco's estimated 100,000 gays and lesbians, as well as heterosexual couples, official status that prohibits discrimination.
'We are not extending the benefits of marriage. We can not do that for heterosexual or gay couples but we can make sure they are treated fairly,' Board President Harry Britt said.
Britt, a homosexual who vigorously backed the ordinance, said it gives unmarried lovers living together some of the same rights as married couples, such as special hospital and jail visitation.
'If my heart tells me and your heart tells you that we should share our lives together and care for one another, the government has no business telling us we will be discriminated against,' Britt said.
The board also approved a resolution designed to make it possible for city employees to obtain health insurance benefits for their domestic partners equal to those given spouses.
The measure asks the mayor to appoint a task force that will develop a plan for extending health benefits to gays and lesbian, and other unmarried partners of city employees within three months.
The ordinance defines domestic partners as 'two people who have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring.'
To be eligible, both partners must live in San Francisco, or one must work in the city.
Domestic partnerships could be formed by two unrelated people over 18 who sign a declaration provided by the county clerk agreeing to share basic living expenses.
The form must be filed with the county clerk or, for privacy, a notorized copy presented to a third party witness to the signing.
It creates no additional legal obligation, and the partnership could be dissolved by filing written notice.
Unmarried couples living together shouldn't suffer discrimination just because they don't fit the 'traditional definition of the way people take care of and love each other,' Britt said.
'Some of these are gay people, who particularly during the AIDS epidemic have shown an enormous amount of caring and courage and showed our relationships can be very powerful and beautiful things,' he said.
'There have been some awful stories of people denied the ability to take care of their partners,' such as those stricken with acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Britt said.
'We are denied participation in marriage. We can work for benefits but we can't provide them for our loved ones. We have no assurance they can visit us in hospitals and jails,' he said. 'If people love each other, the government should not impose value judgments.
The measure passed on the birthday anniversary of Harvey Milk, a crusading gay city supervisor shot to death along with Mayor George Moscone by former Supervisor Dan White in 1978.
'Harvey Milk taught us that nobody is really free as long as any human being is denied fundamental self-respect,' Britt said.
Three other California cities, West Hollywood, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, have comparable ordinances recognizing non-married couples.