Sometimes doing what is right can be very difficult.
Take for example Councilman Robert Garcia’s move to have the city adopt legislation adding new eligibility criteria for companies who wish to do business with the city. Garcia’s proposed Equal Benefits Ordinance would require that contractors doing business with the City demonstrate they provide benefits for registered domestic partners of employees that are equal to those provided for married spouses of employees.
The State of California, which maintains that domestic partnerships are equal to marriage in all but name, already has such a requirement for businesses wishing to bid on state contracts, as do numerous other major cities including Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Miami Beach, Seattle and Olympia, Washington.
Garcia originally planned to have the item brought before the City Council for a go/no-go vote, but shortly before Tuesday’s meeting decided to instead ask that the proposed ordinance be sent to a committee for public hearings.
Garcia’s shift in seeking approval of the ordinance followed several calls in the media and at least one public comment by a councilperson to move the ordinance to the public hearing path.
To what end, you may ask?
Well, the basic complaint by those speaking out on Garcia’s initial move appears to be a concern for obtaining public input on the proposed ordinance.
Certainly, public input can not be a bad thing. Well, maybe yes and maybe no.
Let’s look frankly at the three camps that are likely to speak publicly on this issue.
There will be members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community who will offer support for the ordinance; there will be business people that claim the ordinance will cause them significant financial impacts; and lastly, there are those who will oppose the ordinance simply because it involves the gay community.
The support of the LGBT community for the ordinance goes without saying, literally.
As for the business owners that will speak out against it, consider this: The ordinance would not apply to those businesses that do not provide benefits to any employee, only to those that already provide benefits to the spouses of married employees. So businesses affected will already have to be paying benefits to their employees, i.e., the businesses will not be forced to pay additional benefits to the member of a domestic partnership that works for them. The only additional cost, if they do not already provide the benefits, is to provide the benefits to their currently covered employees partners.
Also, keep in mind that there are only about 50,000 registered domestic partnerships in the entire state, meaning that the actual number of cases this ordinance would apply to are relatively small.
It is also evident that other cities that have instituted such ordinances, and even the state, have seen no serious financial burden to either private businesses or their general funds.
Remember, what we are talking about here is a change in bidding criteria. This is not an issue about sexual orientation, or the sanctity of marriage, or reverse discrimination or any of the other crap that detractors would have you believe. It is a simple matter of equity. Equal rights for everyone.
Think of this from the point of view of a worker at one of these companies that is in a domestic partnership. He or she works next to married people that the company provides spousal benefits for. And despite doing the same work and the state saying their partnership equals a marriage, the company does not afford them the same coverage.
At least for the most part, however, these business owners opposed to this ordinance are thinking with the profit half of their brain.
The third group likely to voice opinions on this matter are much more insidious. These are the homophobes, who for whatever reason, will always oppose anything that considers or affords non-heterosexuals any kind of legitimacy as members of society. And while these people are entitled to their opinions, the irrationality of their arguments–the foundation of their beliefs in fear and hate over facts–affords the rest of rational society the easy ability to disregard each of them.
So what are we left with?
An ordinance that has enumerable public precedents. An ordinance that will in reality apply to a very small number of people. An ordinance that will, by all evidence available, cause minimal financial impact to the city and/or business owners. And by all accounts, an ordinance that will certainly pass the Council when it comes up for a vote.
So, again, to what end was Tuesday’s decision to hold at least two additional hearings on this matter?
Well, for one thing, these two extra meetings will cost money, both in staffing expense and time, that the city simply can not afford. The City Council and City Hall staff have more important things to worry about–like the budget–than this matter. This is not to say it should not have been brought up. It should and it should be passed. But it should have been passed immediately instead of prolonging it with the rigmarole of a dog-and-pony public hearing process.
You can place your bets now, but I will wager that even after these public meetings the ordinance will pass in virtually the same configuration that it was proposed.
Councilmember Garcia should have stuck to his convictions on this matter and insisted that this matter move forward with a simple vote of the Council. Ordinances move forward all the time with a simple vote at the dais, and nothing about this ordinance raises it to the level of being something special.
And while this might rankle the red-white-and-blue America-first crowd, this country is not and never was the cradle of democracy. In fact, the birthplace of democracy was ancient Athens about 2,500 years ago. Solon, one of the founding lawmakers of the Athenian democracy, passed a law making it illegal for any citizen to shirk controversy.
Lucky for Councilmember Garcia that no such law exists here.
The problem here is, as always, one of priorities. It would be stupidly irresponsible to suppose that the Council can devote 100 percent of their time to the budget, or any small number of critical issues. Smaller matters such as this ordinance will always need to be brought before the Council, but it is also critical that the time and money expended on making a simple decision be weighed against the time and money by delaying it.
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