Tuesday night's City-County Council hearing on the proposed ordinance to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees quickly shifted from a discussion of administrative policy to a larger referendum on the rights of gays and lesbians. After the proposal's author, Karen Horseman (D), introduced the concept of domestic partner benefits to the council in a presentation, Rules and Public Policy chair Robert Massie (R) characterized the ordinance as anti-family. "Rather than acknowledging the status of marriage in our society, this takes an additional step towards erosion of that hallowed institution," Massie remarked. Beulah Coughenour challenged HorsemanÌs estimate that the proposal would cost the city just $44,000 a year, countering that if every unmarried employee applied for the benefits, the cost would soar to $560,000 a year. Citing the cityÌs other financial commitments, such as the combined sewer overflow clean up expected to exceed $1 billion, Coughenhour said domestic partner benefits were not a high priority.
Several hours of public comment followed, opened by Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, who opposed the proposal, claiming that it would Ïcreate de facto gay marriageÓ by extending benefits to same-sex partners, and adversely affect the mental and physical health of the community at large. Clark presented the Council with a petition bearing some 770 signatures opposing the proposal; the Indiana Stonewall Democrats delivered more than 1,400 in its favor.
The majority of the testimony that followed was in support of the proposal, including statements from the Indianapolis Fire Department and Fraternal Order of Police, and human resources representatives from Indiana University and Cummins Engine Co., both large Indiana employers currently offering domestic partner benefits. Clergy and members of the gay and lesbian community also spoke in favor of the proposal, saying the policy would promote equality in the cityÌs employment practices, and attract a more diverse workforce.
As expected, the proposed ordinance was defeated by a voice vote split along party lines. Horseman vowed that it was not the last time the Council would see the issue of domestic partner benefits. "You may have lost the battle," she said as supporters filed out of the CouncilÌs chambers, Ïbut the war still remains.
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