“This legislation helps us update our human resources policies, attempts to provide equal standing for all of our employees, and allows us to be a more competitive employer through our recruitment and hiring policies,” said Mayor Bell.
Toledo’s mayor called it an issue of fairness at a press conference held in the lobby of One Government Center last Friday. The announcement was attended by several members of the local gay community, including former Toledo City Council president Louis Escobar and Eugenio Mollo, Jr., a staff attorney at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) and board member of Equality Toledo.
Escobar told reporters that he never understood growing up why US-Americans needed special laws for the gay community. Then as he learned more, he realized there were special protections for African-Americans and others in the U.S.
“It makes no sense. These are rights that we should have just as Americans,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to pass these laws. But if we have to, then that’s what we have to do to get justice for everyone. This brings it full circle.”
Mayor Bell’s proposal would extend health and other benefits to the domestic partners of city employee, provided they have certified their status with the city’s Domestic Partner Registry, which was first established in 2007. 167 couples have paid a $25 fee to be placed on the city registry. More are expected to follow suit if city council approves the plan.
The legislation would extend the same health, dental and vision benefits to partners as is offered to spouses and dependent children of city employees. Eligibility would be extended to same-sex or heterosexual couples.
“This is for any unmarried couple, for whatever reason they are unmarried,” explained David Mann, president of Equality Toledo. “Ultimately, it’s about recognizing that, in many cases, they are in a loving and committed relationship. They have a partner who’s entitled to and should deserve the rights to the same benefits as someone who’s in a married relationship. If the city’s going to offer benefits to its married employees, it should offer it to all of its employees on an equal basis.”
Cleveland and Columbus already offer domestic partner benefits. The mayor’s office pointed out the University of Toledo, Lucas County, Owens Corning, and the chamber of commerce are among local employers who already offer domestic partner benefits to their workforce.
“Most competitive cities have already moved forward with this because in order to be progressive, you need to be able to deal with the issues that are actually of the people inside your city,” said the mayor.
“We really think Toledo is catching up with everyone else and we think it’s always the right time to do the right thing and we’re happy to see that they’re ready to it,” said Mann.
Bell’s announcement was met with some skepticism from a few Toledo city councilmen. Councilman George Sarantou stated the proposal would have to be studied carefully. Fellow Republican council member Rob Ludeman expressed both financial and moral concerns about the proposal.
But Bell doesn’t expect the cost of providing the additional benefits to be high, estimating about 2 percent of the city's workforce would sign up for the benefits. Mann estimated employers see an increased cost of between 0.1 and one percent after extending domestic partner benefits.
At least two other city council members have expressed open support for the proposal. Toledo City Council President Joe McNamara and Councilman Steve Steel each spoke at the press conference.
“The bottom line is the city of Toledo should not discriminate what benefits it offers based on race,” said McNamara. “The city of Toledo should not discriminate what benefits it offers based on gender. The city of Toledo should not discriminate what benefits it offers based on sexual orientation. This is a basic question of fairness.”
“We have to be a welcoming community,” echoed Steel.
Many in the gay community expect some people to object to domestic partner benefits on religious grounds. But Escobar called it a “constitutional issue, not a biblical one.” He stated many conservatives quote from the Old Testament when they call homosexuality as a sin.
“I’m a spiritual and religious person, too,” said Escobar, a former Catholic priest. “Jesus came to bring the New Word. Nowhere does he say anything in the Scripture about homosexuality. He teaches love and acceptance of one another. To me, that’s the message and that’s why I’m so disturbed when Christians make such a big deal out of it.”
Toledo City Council has scheduled a hearing on May 30, 2012, starting at 4:00PM to discuss the merits of the proposed legislation.