Smyrna, a real city in metro Atlanta, wants to get serious about domestic partner benefits for its gay employees. On one side is a straight ex-Army Ranger who favors them; on the other, a guy named Corkey.
A showdown could come as soon as the City Council's meeting on Nov. 3. Charles “Corkey” Welch and his Council colleagues have been considering the idea since July, when Corkey said he's agin' it over concerns about fraud, abuse and well, the gays.
He raised those same, tired complaints again last week when the Council chewed over the issue.
“I just feel like there’s too much room for fraud,” Welch said, “for somebody to take advantage of the city by insuring a friend of theirs that just needs insurance.”
But Welch said the underlying reason he doesn’t support the idea is because he opposes same-sex marriage.
“From my standpoint, I still believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” Welch said.
Corkey is catering to his grumpy old guy demographic that also includes 80-year-old Al Graves. He reminded the Council that gay marriage is banned – at least for now – in Georgia. Nevermind that domestic partnerships aren't marriage. He's agin' it anyway, proving that Georgia will get gay marriage when old people die. (Or a federal judge disagrees.)
“Why would they circumvent the state law that says it’s illegal to form this marriage?” said Graves, who said he opposes gay marriage. “Why would they take it among themselves to make this assumption? They’re losing respect for the fact that there’s a legal law forbidding gay marriage in Georgia.”
Support for DP benefits has come from a surprising source – retired Army Ranger, straight guy and current Council member Wade Lnenicka (photo), who initially raised the issue last year.
“I think the views of the American people are evolving on this issue,” Lnenicka said. “Clearly the courts are finding same-sex marriage as lawful and constitutional, and we have a chance to basically do two things: We can either wait for the courts to rule in Georgia and make it legal in Georgia, or we can go ahead and say, ‘We see what the trend is’ and get ahead of the curve and do the right thing.”
Other council members are split on offering the benefits, which would go to a partner who is “of the same sex of the employee and is at least 18 years of age.” The policy would require that the same-sex partners live at the same address, plan to remain a couple indefinitely and be “jointly responsible for each others’ basic living expenses.”
The Council would need to approve DP benefits at its Nov. 3 meeting so that gay couples could sign up for the city's heath insurance during an upcoming open enrollment session. Lnenicka hopes the vote happens; Council member Ron Fennel says it may not take place that soon. Council member Teri Anulewicz backs the proposal and says it's time for a vote, according to the MDJ.
“This isn’t something people fake to get benefits,” Anulewicz said. “The intent is not to be on the forefront of anything. As far as I see, it’s to give all legally married couples a level playing field.”
About a dozen jurisdictions across Georgia, including Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County, offer domestic partner benefits. Smyrna is among several cities in Cobb County that changed policies to offer retirement benefits to employees who are in legal gay marriages in the wake of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision dumping the Defense of Marriage Act. The Marietta City Council reluctantly approved the change in September.