Another “religious” view of domestic partner benefits

I spoke at City Hall this morning, during “Call to the Public” portion of the Council meeting. These were my words:

Good morning, Mr. Mayor, Representatives, and thank you for the opportunity to speak.

I’ve come here out of a sense that the debate over whether or not to extend benefits to domestic partners who are not married has been miscast. Again and again, I hear that “the religious community” is opposed to this move. Mr. Mayor, Council, there is no one “religious community.” There are religious folks in El Paso whose understanding of Scripture and of Scripture’s proper place in public life leads them to vigorously oppose offering health benefits to gay and lesbian partners of city employees. You’ve heard a good deal from them over the last few weeks, and I have no doubt you’ll continue to hear from them. I celebrate the fact that we live in a country where they can speak their mind and seek to persuade you in this venue and in others.

I celebrate their right, but I happen to think they’re wrong. I also read sacred scripture faithfully, and I also have a vision of how religious belief ought to inform social policy.  I’m a member of “the religious community” no less than they, and I am proud of the steps this Council has taken to redress a wrong. I believe that offering health benefits to some employee families but not others is unjust, and I believe that gays and lesbians who have formed households together are families, no less integral than the one in which I grew up, or the one I created with my wife. This belief of mine is rooted in Scripture and prayer, just like that of the religious people whose voices have been heard up until now.

So please, Mr. Mayor, and Representatives, remember that “the religious community” is not monolithic in El Paso, and that there are thousands of El Pasoans who attend worship regularly, support houses of worship, and believe that you’ve done the right thing in allowing domestic  partners to take part in the city’s health insurance plan.

2 thoughts on “Another “religious” view of domestic partner benefits

  1. Cheryl Gordon

    You found a beautiful way to express our view with passionate calm. Surely that caused people to broaden their perspectives. Thank you for, once again, being a worthy spokesperson for our people to the general community. The part of the provision that is troubling to me is the extension of benefits to unmarried hetero couples, though.

    1. Larry Bach

      Thank you, Cheryl. Very interesting…when I came in, Rev. Field came over to thank me for being there. I told him where I stood on the issue — he was, shall we say, surprised. We had a brief, cordial conversation, and agreed that it was a good thing to live in a place where these sorts of debates can happen civilly.

      I’m mixed on the question of benefits for unmarried heterosexual couples. On the one hand, I understand that it provides a certain amount of political cover. I also recognize that some people choose to form households and, for whatever reason, don’t feel the need to “get married” to do so. I don’t recall all the provisions of the policy, but I think it requires something like 3 pieces of evidence of a long-term relationship (joint mortgage/utility bills, a full-on domestic partner contract, etc.), so it should be free from abuse. Of course, there are “legally” married couples that don’t make it the six months this policy requires before benefits can be considered, and we know that there are also people who use the institution of legal marriage just in order to get benefits like these (or residency, or whatever). So, it’s complicated.

      Shabbat Shalom!


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