Easton Moving Towards Benefits For Same Sex Couples
"We’re not talking about race or religion here, we’re talking about the human race," says Councilman Ken Brown
Easton is moving towards providing health and other benefits to gay and lesbian employees and their partners, under an ordinance introduced to city council's administration committee Tuesday night.
While council took no formal action on the matter, all of its members seemed to approve of the idea.
"We’re not talking about race or religion here, we’re talking about the human race," says Councilman Ken Brown.
"Fairness is priceless," added Councilwoman Eleanor Warner.
If it's passed, the ordinance would make Easton one of the few cities in Pennsylvania to provide domestic partnership benefits for same sex couples, said Adrian Shanker of the Pennsylvania Diversity Network, which was pushing for the ordinance.
"It really is landmark civil rights legislation," said Shanker said.
Easton will become either the fourth or fifth city in Pennsylvania to offer such benefits, depending on when Allentown votes on its domestic partnership ordinance. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg already have domestic partnership benefits, said the Diversity Network's Liz Bradbury.
"To me it’s just a matter of fairness and the right thing to do," said Councilman Mike Fleck, who introduced the ordinance. "It'll show that Easton is a place where progressives are welcome…that Easton is a place that is open."
Council members say the ordinance does not apply heterosexual couples who live together, but only to same sex couples. Mayor Sal Panto said he supports the ordinance, but had a few concerns, including one about the "roommate syndrome," meaning people who lived together in a platonic relationship, but who might claim to be in a domestic partnership just to get free health care.
"I'm all for the ordinance, but I'm against fraud," Panto said.
But Bradbury said the ordinance makes it difficult -- if not impossible -- for anyone not in a long-term, committed relationship to collect benefits. You need to prove you're in a relationship, and also pay a significant amount of taxes.
"The people who do this are the ones who'd sell their homes, sell everything they have, to get treatment for their partner," Bradbury told council.
It's not clear how many people would actually take advantage of the ordinance, which would go into effect on the first day of 2012.
Bradbury said she consulted with Harrisburg, which has about 500 city employees, seven of whom took advantage of the domestic partnership benefits. Easton has 200 workers, "so you're probably only talking about a person," Bradbury said.