Domestic Partner Benefits are in the El Paso City Budget

Today was the vote on the city budget, and 42 people came out to speak for and against that element of the budget that would grant unmarried domestic partners, including gays and lesbians, the right to buy into the city’s health plan. As was the case last week, most of the opposition was religious in nature, with a few folks arguing it from an economic perspective. And, like last week, much of the support was avowedly secular, challenging the propriety of introducing religious doctrine into such a public policy debate.

A very few of us spoke in favor of the proposal from a faith perspective. These were my words:

We’ve heard a great deal of Bible quoting over the last few weeks. If we’re going to argue this out on Biblical grounds, perhaps we should look to a book of the Bible whose values are more deeply aligned with those of our society?

We might consider Deuteronomy, which calls us to come to the aid of the disadvantaged, to lift up the fallen, to care for the marginalized. We can recognize, in its call to pursue justice and fairness, values very much aligned with those of this city. As the book says: Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof. “Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue.”

The issue before you, I believe, is a matter of justice. Gays and lesbians are no less capable of forming loving, stable households and families than straight men and women. When they do so, they ought not be treated unjustly by their employer. This is all the more true when their employer is a public entity that has put non-discrimination policies encompassing sexual orientation on the books.

I pray that you will pursue, and achieve, justice with your vote.

That’s the one-minute version, which was all the time alloted. Had two whole minutes been mine, I would have said this:

Mr. Mayor, Council:

We’ve heard a great deal of Bible quoting over the last few weeks, much of it rooted in the Levitical ban on homosexual activity. It’s worth noting, in passing, that the very same word used to ban that activity, to’evah, is used to ban pork as well. If we’re going to argue this out on Biblical grounds, perhaps we can find a more relevant Biblical book, one whose values are more closely aligned with our society?

We might, for example, consider Deuteronomy, which calls us, again and again, to come to the aid of the disadvantaged, to lift up the fallen, to care for the marginalized. We might recognize, in its call to pursue justice and fairness, values very much aligned with those of this city. That pursuit is non-negotiable, and is repeated for emphasis: Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof. “Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue.”

The basic meaning of tzedek, translated as “justice,” is “equity” or “fairness.” We are called to have tzedek scales, for example, meaning scales where the weights are equal. We can’t show favoritism, and we can’t cut corners. The issue before you, I believe, is a matter of justice. Gays and lesbians are no less capable of forming loving, stable households and families than straight men and women. When they do so, they ought not be treated unfairly by their employer, measured on a different scale, as it were. This is all the more true when their employer is a public entity that has put non-discrimination policies encompassing sexual orientation on the books!

This isn’t about “lifestyles,” or “choices” or the “erosion of marriage.” It’s about fairness and equity in the workplace, about not offering a better benefits package to some of your employees than others on the basis of their sexual orientation. I pray that you will pursue, and achieve, justice with your vote.

I am proud of my City Council, which voted 7-1 to allow unmarried domestic partners the opportunity to buy into the city’s health plan under the same terms as spouses. Now, the hard work begins. A petition to the void the decision will be forthcoming, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see recall initiatives against the Reps who voted “yes” (El Pasoans love to file recall petitions!). I will do everything in my power to turn out the vote against those efforts, so that these newly-granted benefits don’t disappear. I don’t believe for a minute that a majority of El Pasoans oppose the policy, but I do know just how well-organized and motivated the folks who lost today are.

It ain’t over, folks…

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