Joined by members of the Louisville Metro Council and gay rights advocates, Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order Friday extending domestic partner benefits to Metro Government employees that will go into effect July 1, 2012.
The policy decision to offer health insurance benefits to couples living together in a household but who are not legally married follows many Fortune 500 company policies. In 2006, the University of Louisville instituted a similar program, as have other local companies such as Humana and Brown-Forman.
Fischer says if the city wants to attract the best and brightest talent to live in Louisville, it must offer domestic partner benefits that are competitive with the private sector.
“We know that Louisville is a growing and vibrant international city and for nay 21st Century city to succeed it must value all people, be a welcoming city and certainly embrace diversity,” he says.
City officials estimate the cost to taxpayers will be around $400,000 and close to 400 Metro employees will take advantage of the new policy. The city is waiting until the next fiscal year to create the program in order to study the cost and implementation.
The order extends medical, dental and vision insurance coverage for qualified adults, defined as someone over 18 years of age and not eligible for Medicare.
In order to qualify, an employee’s partner must be residing in their household for at least nine month. The couples must also be financially interdependent for the same period of time. Employees will have to provide evidence such as joint checking accounts, mortgage, utility billing statement or apartment lease.
Responding to the announcement, the Fairness Campaign praised the decision and city lawmakers who voted for the historic Fairness ordinance in 1999, which barred discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, called the order another step forward for the city.
“Twenty years ago it was courageous for people in this room to step out and take a stand for Fairness. Today it’s not that way. Today it’s common sense, it is the right thing to do and it is good for business,” says Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, who was joined by her partner at the signing. “I thank those people for your courage over the last 20 years and for starting this ball rolling and Mayor Fischer for bringing us here today.”
Opponents of domestic partner benefits, however, criticized the decision for moral reason and slammed the mayor for passing on having any public input on the policy change.
From the Courier-Journal:
“This is legislation by fiat,” Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation said. “This is not good public policy. Particularly with issues involving gay rights, they get what they want through court action and executive policy made behind closed doors.”
But the mayor says the city needs to value all families equally and bypassed public hearings because extending benefits shouldn’t be left up to debate.
“I’m aware that there is what I think is a small group of people that may not agree with this decision, but to me it’s certainly the right decision and the fair decision. And as a city and a country I hope we’re beyond too much debate about these types of issues,” says Fischer.