When four couples trekked to City Hall on Wednesday to obtain domestic partnership certificates, advocates lauded it as a historic day in Buffalo.
A new law took effect that creates a domestic partnership registry, and a lesbian couple had the distinction of obtaining the city's first certificate.
Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd were waiting outside the city clerk's office when it opened to fill out the Sworn Statement of Domestic Partnership.
Advocates say the certificates will make it easier for people to prove their unions to employers and other entities for the purposes of obtaining benefits.
Lambert, who is president of Outspoken for Equality, a gay rights group, said the certificate that she and her partner obtained is more symbolic than anything.
"It's a piece of paper that says we're dedicated to each other, we're in the same household, we're financially linked to each other in some way, and that we're going to be together for the rest of our lives," said Lambert, who has been with Rudd for more than a decade.
The city charges $40 for the certificate. If individuals want to nullify their partnership, they must submit additional documentation and pay another $40 fee.
The certificates are issued to same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples, as long as they provide identification and proof that they cohabit such as a landlord statement or bank statement.
Even though advocates view the new registry as a step forward, Lambert and Bruce Kogan of Stonewall Democrats of Western New York were passing out crumbs from a crumb cake to visitors in City Hall. Lambert said the registry amounts to "crumbs" compared with the larger mission of legalizing gay marriage in New York.
"We want marriage," she said. "We want the whole wedding cake. We want the whole experience. We want all the protections. This is a small little piece."
Lambert predicted the state will eventually legalize gay marriage. "It will happen. It's just a matter of time," she said.
Buffalo's domestic partnership registry law took effect one day after the Common Council overwhelmingly approved a law that would extend city employee benefits to same-sex couples. Mayor Byron W. Brown has yet to say whether he will sign the bill, but Tuesday's 8-1 Council vote would seem to make the measure veto-proof. Brown told The Buffalo News he is still reviewing the legislation.
Lambert said the law is "way past due," but she said she is disappointed that the compromise bill excludes opposite-sex couples. She said many such couples don't marry for religious and financial reasons.
She and other advocates have dismissed arguments that a broader law could cause the city's health insurance tab to skyrocket. They said other municipalities have not seen significant cost increases. They also noted that labor contracts already make about half the city's work force eligible for same-sex domestic partner benefits and that only two employees have signed up for such benefits.