Chattanooga votes to add benefits for Domestic Partners - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Chattanooga votes to add benefits for Domestic Partners

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The Chattanooga City Council's role in a controversial issue came to an end Tuesday night. 5-to-3 they voted to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees. As supporters celebrate clearing this hurdle, another may await. Opponents have begun a grass-roots effort aimed at getting the issue on the ballot. New details on the implementation of the Benefits and Equity Ordinance and the battle that may not yet be over.

"I think it's a great victory for Chattanooga," said 7th District Councilman Chris Anderson. "It shows we're a truly progressive city. We take care of our city employees, and we treat all of them fairly and equally." The Benefits and Equity Ordinance passed with votes falling the same as they had one week ago. Only Councilman Larry Grohn was absent; he had previously voted against.

Once again, the hot-button issue was decided with little fanfare. Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem counted the votes, announced the measure had passed, and moved on.

Councilman Anderson had brought the ordinance forward. "It's not something I expected when I ran for this job," he said. But, sometimes, doing the right thing invites criticism." A cursory look at the WRCB Facebook page shows criticism, support, and a number of questions; a few of which we took to Anderson.

Asked if the ordinance would include children from a state-recognized marriage outside the relationship going on right now, Anderson said, "Yes it would."

The language of the ordinance defines a domestic partnership as one meeting certain qualifications, including: sharing a primary residence for at least a year, proving joint responsibility for basic living expenses. But, about the statement from the ordinance summary which reads: The city employee and the domestic partner have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring. We asked Anderson how that will be determined. "The city employee and his or her domestic partner will have to sign an affidavit,notarized, stating that is the case," he explained. "which is something we don't require for married couples; so, there is a very high threshold to avoid fraud."

"Well, I don't think this is a settled matter," said 1st District Councilman Chip Henderson, speaking for the opposition. Signatures are being collected in an effort to send the issue to the voters. "I think it'll be overwhelmingly turned down," he added. "You know, my personal opinion."

Anderson does not believe the petition drive will get anywhere. "I have faith in this city that a majority of our residents will not sign a petition aimed at treating people differently and unfairly," he said. But, if it does, he added, "I definitely have faith that our city will defeat such a measure on the ballot next August."

The Hamilton County Election Commission will hear from those hoping to get this issue on the ballot on Wednesday morning. If the required number of signatures are collected and approved before the ordinance goes into effect in two weeks, Councilman Henderson tells Channel 3 a stay on the measure would be issued, pending the results of a referendum.

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