Chattanooga discusses same sex benefits
It is a controversial issue that has spawned passionate debate.
Collegedale was the first city in the state of Tennessee to offer benefits to same-sex domestic partners.
In the coming weeks, Chattanooga's City Council will decide whether to follow suit with a policy of their won.
Are the council's views as divided as the beliefs of those who addressed the issue Tuesday night?
"This is a volatile issue on both sides," said 7th District Councilman Chris Anderson, "and I think people feel very strongly whether they're for it or against it."
The question of whether the city of Chattanooga will offer benefits to same sex partners in a state that doesn't recognize same sex marriages has yet to be taken up. But, it lead to another packed city council meeting.
Supporters rallied outside and took their pleas inside. "My wife and I," said one female speaker, "and yes, I can call her my wife because as of September 16th of this year we were legally married in the state of Maryland. We both work 40 hours a week, full time, with benefits. Only we cannot share those benefits with our legally married spouse."
Those in opposition cited religious reasons. "We should not reward immorality," said Shad Smith, Pastor of Temple Baptist Church. "The Bible says 'righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.' I don't want to live in a reproached city."
One man read Bible passages at the lectern, another spoke of entitlements. "When we speak of benefits, we're talking about entitlements," said Pastor Alfred Johnson from Church of the First Born, "and I do not believe that a person is entitled when they break, not only the law of God, but also the laws of the state."
Those arguments that did not fly with those who attended the meeting clad in red. One of the speakers asked, "Whose morals are we going to be deciding by? Some religious organizations say that a woman has to have her head covered. Are we going to make that city law?"
Councilman Anderson, the first openly gay candidate to win election in Chattanooga, is working on language for the policy with the city attorney. On the change, he said, "I think people will see that it's a fair and equal proposal and it treats all our employees with the dignity and the respect that they deserve, just like so many other Chattanooga employers already do."
The city attorney and HR administrator will discuss with council members the issue of offering city benefits to all unmarried couples next Tuesday at 3:30. There will be time for more public comments.
The council is likely to vote on the issue on November 12th with second reading scheduled for November 19th.