Equal Benefits Bill Debated

Equality PA's Adrian Shanker shares his thoughts from City Hall today

Illustration by G Philly

The talk today at Philadelphia’s City Hall is all about Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown’s Equal Benefits Bill. If passed, the legislation would extend equal benefits to same-sex partners. It also requires that contractors accepting service contracts above $250,000 also extend the same employment benefits to life partners of its employees – the same benefits that are currently available to married employees.

There are quite a few community leaders testifying today. One of them – Adrian Shanker, president of Equality Pennsylvania – shared his thoughts with us:

Pennsylvania sits a crossroads right now. On the one hand, public opinion has grown, and continues to grow, rapidly in favor of equality for the LGBT community. On the other, our legislature in Harrisburg has failed in their responsibility to provide equal relationship recognition for same-sex couples. Equality Pennsylvania works closely with our allies in Harrisburg, and we can assure the City Council that every time a municipality advances relationship recognition for same-sex couples, our state legislature takes notice.

The reality is that if Pennsylvania had marriage equality, the Equal Benefits Bill would not be necessary.

Philadelphia has a history, in fact a tradition, of leading the way for LGBT equal rights in Pennsylvania. In 2002, City Council amended the Fair Practices Act with language protecting the LGBT community from discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation. Today, 23 municipalities, covering more than 30 percent of Pennsylvanians, provide the same protection as Philadelphia for their residents. In 1996, Mayor Rendell signed an executive order granting domestic partner benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. Since then, the cities of Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Easton and Lancaster and the borough of Doylestown have enacted policies to provide partner benefits to their city workforces, as well. Indeed, Philadelphia laid the groundwork for other municipalities to move forward in providing some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

Equality PA's president Adrian Shanker (courtesy of Equality PA)

Today, this body has the power to advance legislation that will, once again, make Philadelphia known across the commonwealth as a beacon of progressive ideas and a leader in the struggle for equal rights for all people. The Equal Benefits Bill, quite simply, will make sure that any of the city’s contractors with bids over $250,000, provide same-sex partners of their employees with the same benefits provided to legally married employees. This is not only good for the LGBT community, but in actual fact this legislation will be a benefit for the business community as well. The business community has been far outpacing governments in the race for equality. A vast majority of Fortune 500 companies provide same-sex partner benefits, and have done so because they know it is in their best interest to attract and retain a top-talented workforce.

Let us remember one important fact about this legislation: We are talking about partner-based employee benefits such as access to medical coverage, FMLA and bereavement leave. While good people may disagree on national social issues, I think it is pretty non-controversial to suggest that these benefits should be required for large city contractors to provide to same-sex partners of their employees.

If we start with the basic idea that all people deserve equal treatment, equal benefits, and in fact equal rights – then there is no rational reason to oppose the Equal Benefits Bill. And in fact, once Philadelphia moves forward, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection will truly be raised up as an example for dozens of other cities throughout the Commonwealth, as well as yet another reminder that the State of Pennsylvania actively discriminates against the LGBT community by denying equal marriage rights.

The reality is that this legislation has an impact far beyond Philadelphia. The impact will be heard in city halls throughout Pennsylvania, and in actual fact, across the nation. This legislation is cutting-edge policy making and superior thought-leading by Philadelphia, and I look forward to the passage of this bill.

Equality Pennsylvania applauds Councilwoman Reynolds Brown on the introduction of this bill, and urges all members of this committee to advance this important legislation to the full council.