Equal rights supporters lauded the first chance for an Equal Benefits ordinance in Santa Monica for same sex and heterosexual domestic partners to apply to City contractors. This ordinance would cover an overlooked section in the City’s support for equal benefits for domestic partners working for Santa Monica.
The intent is to prohibit discrimination from City contractors based on sexual orientation and marital status, bringing practices in line with non-discrimination laws. The ordinance requires contractors to apply the same health insurance and benefits that are offered to employee’s spouses to also be offered to employees with domestic partners.
Santa Monica Council member Richard Bloom requested staff to draft the ordinance language at the council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 26. This follows similar ordinances passed by the State legislature and in other major cities including San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. San Diego passed the benefits ordinance this year, which will be used as an informational reference for the council members.
Starting in 1996, ordinances like this first gained momentum in San Francisco leading the State to pass an Equal Benefits ordinance in 2003. Los Angeles passed a similar ordinance ten years ago, joining six cities statewide and 16 cities across the country.
“I’m surprised we didn’t get to it sooner, I think its important for Santa Monica to be out there with other cities to set the example,” Bloom said. “I’m hoping that very soon won’t need to have an ordinance like this.”
Santa Monica first protected domestic partnerships from unfair eviction in 1995, encompassing children from these relationships at the turn of the century. That same year the council enacted equal benefits protection to firefighters and police officers in domestic partnerships. The following year all City employees in domestic same-sex or marital relationships received the equal benefits. Council member Kevin McKeown also expressed surprise that contractors hired by the City had not been included in these ordinances. He called it an oversight and expressed excitement to extend the benefit protection.
Marc Solomon, marriage director for Equality California, the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights advocacy organization, testified in person about the importance of this ordinance.
Equality California, citing 600,000 members in California since 1996, has moved more than 70 pieces of legislation in the state during the past decade. Bloom, who supports equal rights for same-sex couples including the right to marry, worked with the group to bring light to the disparity.
Tuesday’s discussion was to spur the City attorney to investigate and return with proposed language to pass the law in Santa Monica, Bloom said before the meeting. The process will take a few months to examine other municipal’s ordinances, and he said to gain input from community members. Bloom called the law a “small measure to level the playing field.”
The Equal Benefits ordinance will be treated much like the living wage law in place in Santa Monica, which requires a minimum wage for all City workers. Anyone who has a contract with the City would be required to offer the same level of benefits for domestic partners as heterosexual, married couples.
Bloom said before the meeting that the discrimination against same-sex couples – excluding people that love each other and are committed to one another in relationships –is “not right.” He said, “It’s shameful that they aren’t covered in the same way.” Until same-sex marriage is legal in the state, he said this ordinance would be an important benefit for families.