Council proposal would extend benefits to same-sex couples

Will French, who works in the county clerk's office, hopes the ordinance passes.

A Democratic city-county councilor is behind a new proposal to extend health benefits to the same-sex partners of city workers.

The proposal, drafted by Angie Mansfield, would also extend those benefits to unmarried couples.

"It's going to recognize there are many different types of families in the community and show we do value their service by providing benefits," Mansfield said.

To qualify for benefits, the ordinance reads, domestic partners would have to have "shared one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring, who have shared a residence for at least 365 days, and who have agreed to be jointly responsible for basic living expenses..."

It also says they would have to sign a "declaration of domestic partnership."

Benefits would available would be "identical (to) those available to spouses," and include insurance, pension benefits and family/medical leave.

Will French, who's worked in the county clerk's office for four years and is gay, hopes the ordinance passes.

"Suddenly me and mine could call our families 'families' and the definition of families is expanding and this seems part of that expansion," he said.

Rick Sutton with Indiana Equality says the ordinance is about equality and economics.

"We think it means a lot for the city," Sutton said. "A lot of times, people don't want to go to work for government, because of the money and if you want to attract and retain the best you have to compete with the private sector and this sends a message we're ready to do that."

Mansfield agreed, saying the ordinance "isn't groundbreaking by any means."

She referred to a study that found in 2009, 83 percent of all Fortune 500 companies offered domestic partner benefits.

The last time the council addressed an issue dealing with gays and lesbians was in 2005. A proposal adding gays and lesbians to the city's anti-discrimination clause narrowly passed following contentious debate.

Though it's been seven years and attitudes are changing, this newest proposal is also expected to draw opposition.

Republican Councilor Jack Sandlin said he has concerns about the costs, but he also doesn't like the idea of extending benefits to same-sex couples. It's an ordinance he won't support.

Still, Mansfield believes the proposal has enough bipartisan support to pass the council.

As for where Mayor Greg Ballard stands?

"He understands it could help attract talent to the city. Many of our larger employers do offer those benefits, so if the council passes the resolution extending benefits it's something he'd take a look at," said the mayor's spokesman Marc Lotter.

Mansfield plans to introduce the proposal at the next council meeting.