On Tuesday June 17 the Metro Council in Nashville passed an ordinance that will grant domestic partners of city employees access to benefits such as insurance and pensions. By a vote of 27-7 with two abstentions, Metro Council made Nashville the fourth city in Tennessee – behind Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Collegedale – to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees.
For Bob Benson, the road to this particular council meeting began in April 2013.
“I got a message from Chris Sanders with the Tennessee Equality project,” he said. “Just asking if we could have coffee with him, if we could sit down and talk about domestic partner benefits in Metro, so I was thrilled just to be asked and thrilled that the topic was finally coming up.”
A Metro employee for the past 22 years, the last 14 at Parks and Recreation, Benson agreed at that meeting to look for and engage as many LGBT Metro employees that he knew who would be affected by proposed legislation.
“So I did what I could,” he said, “and reached out to a lot of different people and we held our first meeting in late July at Café Coco after work. We had about 17 people show up and they came from all different departments. We had (people from) libraries, parks, fire, police, the IT department, water department. It was really neat, I mean, to have 17 people show up. I only personally knew a few of them, you know, but people reached out to others.”
“So over the summer I kinda kept in touch with this group of 17 folks,” Benson said, “but it never really grew from that and I always wished it would grow to more because I know there’s more than 17 people in Metro.”
By October, the council had officially approached Mayor Karl Dean with a request to open a “Study and Formulating Committee,” an article in the Metro Charter that allows for the Mayor to appoint and Council to approve a study at least once every five years to look at “benefits, contributions, extent of coverage, actuarial soundness, and related matters in the system of benefit plans.” The mayor’s acquiescence was deemed by mainstream media to be a tacit endorsement of potential forthcoming legislation.
“It was around mid-November,” said Benson, “on Facebook I got invited to a group and it was for LGBT Metro employees and their allies, started by John Johnson. He’s a paramedic. He started this group, and it just exploded. Right now this group has about 61 people in it, so it grew rather quickly and I’m so thrilled that he did it and I told him that it was a turning point for me because it really just upped our numbers and made me feel like this really was starting to move forward.”
“January,” he continued, “I think it was late-January we all had another get-together at the Pour House down on Division Street. We had about 25 folks show up for drinks and stuff and it was nice to really meet all these people in our group. It’s kinda funny, between parks and libraries we always kinda knew each other, and police and fire know each other well, but the worlds didn’t really – they don’t cross over much so at this meeting they really did. That was fun to see.”
“So after that we just waited to hear when the bill would be introduced.”
That bill, formally presented at Metro Council May 20, is technically “an ordinance amending Title 3 of the Metropolitan Code to provide domestic partner benefits for Metropolitan Government employees.” Its sponsors included Council Members Peter Westerholm, Brady Banks, Megan Barry, Lonnell Matthews, Ronnie Steine, Anthony Davis, Burkley Allen, Scott Davis, and Tim Garrett.
At Nashville Metro Council, bills almost always pass the first reading without any discussion. They’re basically approved at that point to begin discussion and debate, which generally happens at the second reading. A bill that passes second reading without being diverted, derailed, or just voted down stands a good chance of passing upon its third and final reading/vote.
So when the bill passed second reading with little fanfare or fireworks (See Nashville domestic partner benefits ordinance passes second reading) supporters were understandably happy. Just one day before the third reading and final vote on the bill, Bob Benson seemed focused on both the council meeting as well as the planned after-party.
“Everything’s still the same as when I talked to you the last time,” he said. “Looking good. Thinking positively.”
Once the council voted to pass the bill on June 17, O&AN Managing Print Editor James Grady spoke with Benson and his partner, Michael McDaniel, outside the council chambers. “For us, it’s especially exciting,” he told O&AN, “because it means that my employer can recognize that when I go home at the end of a day’s work, I go home to a family. And he’s my family, so that means the world to me.”