Rights and Responsibilities for All

A couple we’ll call Bob and Phillip have been living in the house Phillip bought, and Bob has been working only part-time, so he could help raise their son. But after 10 years and a lot of effort to work things out, Bob and Phillip have split up. So, what about Bob? He no longer has a place to live, he doesn’t have equity in the house, and he needs to find a full-time job.

Minnesota Statute 518.552 allows a court to grant spousal maintenance payments from an ex-spouse as part of a divorce settlement. But because Minnesota law fails to recognize Bob and Phillip’s relationship at all, it also fails to prescribe rights and responsibilities to them during what is essentially a divorce.

Although it is blatantly unfair for an ex-same-sex partner to be left high and dry by his former partner, another inequality exists: Minnesota statutes let an ex-partner off the hook when it comes to responsibilities of supporting an ex-spouse. In other words, state law allows ex-partners to “get out of” their moral and ethical obligations when ending a long-term relationship. In our example, Phillip has no responsibility, other than ethical, to help Bob with maintenance payments so he can transition to his new life.

Section 518.552 is only one of 515 statutes identified by Project 515 in an effort to change how we think and talk about same-sex relationships. Minnesotans need to start talking in terms of “rights and responsibilities” bestowed upon all of us in long-term committed relationships, not just those who are legally married.

Project 515 is a focused initiative with a specific, achievable goal: to ensure that same-sex couples and their families have equal rights and considerations under Minnesota law. Like most Minnesotans, we believe that all couples and families should be equally valued and respected under the law and in our court system.

So, Project 515’s first goal was to identify how Minnesota law impacts everyday life for same-sex couples in long-term relationships. The resulting report, Unequal Under the Law: 515 Ways Minnesota Laws Discriminate against Couples and Families, details the statutes that impact Minnesota’s same-sex couples on a daily basis, and highlights how opposite-sex married couples are treated differently than same-sex couples.

Our next goal is to change how Minnesotans talk about the rights and responsibilities of same-sex couples. By identifying and highlighting the many ways in which the state discriminates, we are confident everyday Minnesotans will advocate for changing our inherently unfair and discriminatory laws.

There is a lot of talk about “family values” in the world today. In most cases, family values focus on fostering loving, peaceful relationships that raise responsible children, and offer a caring and secure environment for all family members. As an extension, living according to family values also means providing for family members should a relationship fail.

Same-sex couples should abide by these family values just as opposite-sex couples do. But that’s impossible if state law doesn’t recognize the relationships of same-sex couples. We simply want to be able to make loving life choices that will be recognized by our state laws. If a partnership ends, ex-same-sex partners should be held to the same standard as opposite-sex partners.

Some argue that same-sex couples are looking for “special” rights. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Same-sex couples are looking for equal rights and responsibilities so our relationships and family members can conduct healthy, secure lives, and contribute to the community as a whole.

Project 515’s work has only begun. We will present our research to legislators soon, and engage all Minnesotans in this discussion. Equally as important, we’ll ask state legislators to consider why Phillip and Bob should be held to different standards than any other partners who have been together for a decade and who have raised children. The answer: There is no good reason. That’s why it’s time for a change.

Help Project 515 work for equality by telling us your story, or by donating your time or money. Go to www.project515.org.

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