After a marathon session that ran late into the evening of June 3, for which the domestic partner benefits debate was just one of many topics, Metro Council voted 25-6 in favor of the ordinance, allowing for a third reading and vote in two weeks.
Though he was confident the votes were there, Bob Benson, a 22-year metro employee, had some reservations.
“At that moment, listening to Councilman Clayburn and Councilman Stites talk about why they couldn’t vote for the bill, and urging others to do the same, I did start to get nervous,” he said. “Probably the most insulting thing I heard that night was one of the council members referring to us as people who choose to live in unhealthy lifestyles, and it just… it hurts when you hear that.”
“Then you have a real Christian voice,” he added, quickly. “Seriously. Councilman Scott Davis. He really gets it. He gave a really passionate speech about how the legislation is about love and it’s about who you love. These are the types of leaders the city really needs.”
Tennessee Equality Project Executive Director Chris Sanders adds: “Not only did we get a majority (vote), but we got a stronger majority than we usually do on equality legislation before the Metro Council. Third and final reading of the bill is on June 17th. If it passes, open enrollment will be in the fall with benefits set to take effect in January.”
Benson and his partner Michael McDaniel were two of dozens of metro employees and supporters who attended the council meeting, all clad in blue to show their support for the initiative. The couple, who’ve been together for twelve years, recognized the need for domestic partner benefits when they travelled to St. Louis two years ago to attend a funeral.
“It was two years ago, his mother passed away,” said Benson. “To me, she’s my mother-in-law. So I was obviously going to the funeral. The family was so sweet they even put my name after Michael’s in the obituary. You know, in parentheses, like they normally do a spouse? But to go to the funeral, we took a week off, and I had to use personal vacation time.”
“All the other metro employees who have a spouse or recognized spouse are granted up to five days of bereavement leave,” he said, “so it doesn’t affect your vacation, the days you’ve accumulated for vacation. It’s a benefit that married people get with metro government but we don’t get because he’s not recognized as my partner.”
In less than two weeks after the second reading, the ordinance will face its third and final reading and vote in council. Benson sees it, at this point, a formality.
“Oh yeah, we’re all gonna plan to be there again,” he said, “as many that can, at least. The meeting starts at 6:30 and we’re all gonna wear blue again just to show support. So that should be a big night. And we’ll surely have a little celebration afterwards.”
“It dawned on me today,” said Benson, “and this may sound silly, but do you realize that by this time next month, or in the next two weeks, I will finally be able to say that my employer recognizes that when I go home at the end of a long work day that I go home to a family? Most people in the world can already say that. We’ve got to wait a couple more weeks but that’s okay."
"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
(Photo courtesy Newschannel5.com)