The Daily Pulse:

Could Knoxville Offer Benefits to Domestic Partners?

Yesterday brought the news that tiny Collegedale, just outside of Chattanooga, is set to offer employee benefits to domestic partners. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that a police officer, Detective Kat Cooper, worked with the city for months to get it to include same-sex and heterosexual domestic partnerships in the employee benefits policy so her wife Krista could be on her insurance. (And yes, they were legally married in Maryland.)

If leaders approve the change in August, the town will be the only one among the state's 346 cities to cover domestic partnerships, said a consultant with the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

"Honestly, I'm surprised it wasn't one of the bigger cities that pursued this first," human resources consultant Bonnie Jones said. "Collegedale is kind of on the cutting edge."

Collegedale Commissioner Katie Lamb admits it's odd that Collegedale, with its roots in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, may be first to cross this threshold.

"In 40 years the city has changed a lot," Lamb said. "I think people used to assume we were just a little Seventh-day Adventist community. It's no longer that. ...Things have changed in America, and I think that it is time for us to make sure we're treating our employees equally."

The policy passed a commission vote 4 to 1 last week -- the mayor was the only person to vote against it -- so it seems likely to fully pass at the August meeting.

Cooper believes that if it is passed, the policy could be a model for other cities.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's spokeswoman, Lacie Stone, said the mayor wants to weigh the issue.

Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson, who is the first openly gay candidate to win a contested election in Tennessee, said that establishing equal employee benefits for city employees was a "top level issue" for his term.

"Chattanooga is the kind of progressive city that should be the first major city in Tennessee to address this," said Anderson, who said he has been researching the matter. "I am looking forward to working with the mayor on this."

So what about Knoxville? We're not totally unprogressive. We have a mayor who's totally cool with gays. Could it happen here? Especially after the Supreme Court just declared (most of) the Defense of Marriage Act totally unconstitutional two days ago?

We asked Mayor Rogero's office where they are on this issue, and spokesperson Jesse Mayshark issued this response:

We are reviewing the issue of domestic partnership benefits for city employees. There are questions of legality, cost and fairness to consider.

Even if the mayor does introduce a policy, it would have to go before City Council to become law. So we asked Councilmember Marshall Stair if a policy like Collegedale's would be likely to pass. "I bet it would," Stair says. "Without administration support it probably would not pass."

So there you have it, Knoxville. Now that the Seventh-day Adventists have paved the way for equality, hopefully the rest of us can follow their lead. Let's do it quickly.


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