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Odd Couples

Wait, are those really straight-looking guys actually together? Nope, they're just fake domestic partners.

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Jeff's a 32-year-old "starving artist" who likes to travel. So last fall, he pretended to be gay to get cheap airline tickets. The scheme may sound like something out of a bad Matthew Perry movie, but it worked. A gay friend who works for a major airline offered to list him as his domestic partner, even though Jeff's not the slightest bit bi-curious. "It was really easy," he confesses. "All my friend had to do was tell the airline." Unfortunately for Jeff, he was "dumped" a little while later. "My friend registered his new boyfriend, so he could get the seats."

Dann, a straight 26-year-old part-time consultant, has a more serious problem: He can't afford health insurance. "My roommate, who's also straight, has a great health-care plan," says Dann. "We're going to get ourselves declared partners so I can get covered."

When New York City passed the domestic-partnership law in 1998, it allowed gay and unmarried straight couples to get important benefits like health-care coverage (at least from companies that recognize such partnerships). But just as some people marry for a green card, it's hardly surprising that others have opted to declare fake relationships, whether they're seeking a cheap trip to Paris or a cheaper trip to the doctor. And now, with the city's unemployment rate nearing 8 percent, the number of such partnerships, both real and fake, is on the rise. According to the city clerk's office, 30 percent more people are registering than did last year -- about 50 more people per month.

The process, say many, is amazingly easy: "All we had to do was swear we were in a committed relationship," says one executive assistant. "They didn't even ask for any proof or anything."

Indeed, the only proof required is a signed affidavit attesting that the couple meets certain requirements, such as living together. The city clerk's office wouldn't comment on the possibility of fraud. "We don't know people's personal lives," snapped one spokesperson.

But it may be harder to get past the company paying for the benefits. "Our health carrier requires each person to attest to certain things," says Alix Friedman, director of public relations for the 92nd Street Y. "This includes proof of financial dependence, such as having a shared mortgage."

Melissa and Anne, two straight roommates, considered declaring a partnership when Melissa got laid off, but realized it wouldn't work. "I work at a small not-for-profit," says Anne. "They all know my sexual orientation." Still, even more obvious disqualifications don't always stop people from trying. One H.R. employee says a man attempted (for reasons unknown) to register his cat as his partner. "He had submitted all the paperwork before we realized it was his cat," she admits. "He kept saying, 'Domestic cat, domestic partner.' "

Those who manage to fool their companies may not reap all the benefits they desire. Unlike a spouse, the employed partner pays taxes on the cost of the other's benefits, as if it were extra income. "I guess my roommate wouldn't go for that," admits Dann. "He would pretend to be gay, but not if it cost him money."


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