When Chattanooga officials voted on the city's $212 million budget, a handful of residents showed up to learn what their tax dollars were paying for. Yet an ordinance that hasn't even been introduced is drawing crowds that pack the seats at City Council meetings with protesters and supporters.

Since Councilman Chris Anderson announced in late August that expanding health benefits to employees in same-sex relationships was one of his top priorities, the issue has become the most-discussed topic among residents attending weekly council meetings. And interviews with key council members suggest they are divided along the same lines as their constituents.

Dozens of members of a Baptist congregation and at least 25 friends or supporters of an engaged gay couple filled the City Council chamber over the past two weeks to make their case for whether same- sex partners should be given health insurance and other employee benefits. Some clutched Bibles; others wore T-shirts bearing the message "Equal benefits for equal work." One group created a Facebook page urging supporters to show up.

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