Do Cities Have the Authority to Allow Registration of Gay and Lesbian Couples ?

In Devlin v. City of Philadelphia, 580 Pa. 564, 862 A.2d 1234 (2004), residents of Philadelphia brought action seeking to declare invalid three ordinances involving the new status of "Life Partners" between members of the same sex and addressing health benefits, discrimination and realty transfer tax. Residents also sought to permanently enjoin the City from implementing a "Life Partner" registry. As a preliminary matter, the Supreme Court in Devlin noted that even before the amendments at issue, the City's ordinance already had prohibited discrimination based on "sexual orientation." The Court was "confident that any such discrimination was already prohibited as discrimination based on sexual orientation." Id. at 1247. Accordingly, the Supreme Court failed to see how the City had materially increased the protection it affords to those in Life Partnerships by prohibiting discrimination based on an individual's status as a Life Partner. Id. at 1247-1248. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the City did not exceed its home rule powers when it enacted an ordinance designating same-sex "life partners" as a marital status and that the City was entitled to extend employee benefits to employees' same-sex "life partners." Id. at 1245-47. However, the Court found that the provisions allowing for registration of life partners, as drafted, "invited individuals who neither live nor work in the City to . . . register as Life Partners solely as a means to solidify their full rights to be free from discrimination on account of their Life Partner status when, if ever, they come into the City"; the Court then determined that it was beyond the City's powers to enact such provisions. Id. at 1248. The City's police power does not allow it to enact ordinances that extend beyond its borders. What is critical for the case sub judice is that the Supreme Court indicated that the authority to enact anti-discrimination laws does derive from a municipality's police powers. Id.