I’ve secured a spot on the agenda for the Monday, February 6 City Commission meeting. City Manager Doug Thomas confirmed to me last week that I’ll be on it.
I will be asking the City Commission to order staff to produce an ordinance or resolution within six weeks that offers all same sex couples or parents the same benefits that heterosexuals enjoy. First and foremost this means allowing an employee to include a partner or child on health insurance and designate a partner as beneficiary of insurance or pension benefits. I’m not a lawyer, pension administrator, or HR professional. I’m sure there are complications that must be addressed, perhaps related to unions, identification of couples, etc. I feel certain our professionals can work with professionals in other cities to craft sensible language.
A statement of intent to do that within six weeks — to provide all available and appropriate benefits to same sex couples and parents — is what I’m after.
Frankly, I don’t think this is a big deal. Somebody just needs to ask the commission to do it. Might as well be me. I think there are at least four votes on that panel. But I would hope it’s unanimous. I would also hope that members of the public would come down to express support just by their presence. Or speak on behalf of the measure if they want. If not, I’m quite content to do it alone. Right is right, no matter the crowd. And I understand if you can’t come down. Like I said, this really isn’t a big deal.
I have a twofold reason for supporting this.
1) In a purely practical sense, absence of these benefits puts us at a disadvantage against Orlando, Orange County, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, Gainesville, and many others. The openness of those communities positions them better than we are positioned to attract talent — both gay talent and talent that considers equality important. There are no real STEM/high tech centers in the United States that are hostile to gay people. That’s just a fact. Compared to those other Florida cities and counties, our city and county governments are hostile right now. But that’s easy to fix.
2) Much more importantly, I am the employer of the men and women in question. I want to be a good employer. Workers who are secure and happy in their lives and relationships make better and happier employees and citizens. I value the contributions of gay and lesbian city employees, even though I’m not sure I know any personally.
Beyond that, I love this city. I expect to die here. With any luck, I’ll be employing many, many more gay and lesbian employees in the future. I want to be a good employer to them as well.
I could not help noticing earlier this week that the Polk Sheriff’s Office made another of its periodic public sex busts at a local park. I generally support aggressive enforcement of disorder in public spaces. You can’t have sex in public parks. Period.
But take a look at the men arrested. Three of them were married to women. One was a pastor, another a retired cop. It’s not a coincidence that those profiles find their way to skulking around public parks. These are men living lies. And they are products of work and social cultures historically hostile to the idea of loving and committed homosexual relationships.
Every small step we take toward honoring commitment and love reduces the need for men and women to live lies. This is a small step. But it’s a step.
And I think that everyone in Lakeland — from Occupy Lakeland to First Baptist Church at the Mall — can agree that encouraging monogamy and commitment is preferable to discouraging it. This is one of the few issues out there that should truly unite us.
We’re not talking about marriage. That’s a battle that’s settled for now. Opponents of marriage equality won. But here’s a really good chance for those same opponents to demonstrate their love and concern for their gay and lesbian fellow citizens. I bet they will.
If that paragraph describes you, leave a comment here in support. It will mean quite a bit.
In any event, I hope to see you all on February 6.