Aurora considers extending same-sex partner benefits to city employees

(Photo/dbking, Flickr)
(Photo/dbking, Flickr)
Lawmakers in Aurora, Colorado’s third-largest city, plan to discuss Monday night whether same-sex domestic partners will be added to the city’s definition of family members, which would extend benefits to gay and lesbian partners of city employees. “It’s a best practice in the employee benefits world, and it’s a benefit we should be offering to our employees,” Councilman Larry Beer told the Colorado Independent on Monday.

Already, more than a dozen cities and counties across Colorado — including Denver, Lakewood, Englewood, Littleton, Northglenn and Brighton — extend benefits to same-sex partners. The Aurora City Council will consider the proposal as part of a regular overhaul of its personnel policies, the Aurora Sentinel reported Monday.

The proposed change to the city’s 2009 Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual would make city employees’ domestic partners eligible for such benefits as health care, dental, life, vision and COBRA coverage. The cost of the amendment has been estimated at $4,500 annually for dual coverage for a couple.

According to the proposed definition, a domestic partner would include “same sex partners living together in a committed relationship similar to that of marriage.” Domestic partners would be placed in the same category as an employee’s immediate family member, a category including spouses, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, step-mothers, step-fathers, mother-in-laws, father-in-laws, sisters, brothers, step-siblings, in-laws, foster children, paternal surrogates and other relatives living at the employee’s residence.

A city council committee moved the proposal forward in October on a 2-1 vote, with the dissenter saying she thought the $4,500 cost per employee was too high. Councilwoman Renie Peterson also said she thought the change would be unfair to straight, unmarried city employees who nonetheless chose to live with their partners.

Beer said “offering a decent employee benefits package on an equal basis to all employees” outweighed cost concerns. “We have a good employee benefits package — we don’t have a superb, top-of-the-line benefits package,” he said. “Because of that, I think it’s unlikely adding domestic-partner benefits would actually drive our costs that dramatically.”

“It is an issue of competitiveness,” said Denise M. Whinnen, deputy director of The Gill Foundation’s Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado. “If you want the best employees, you really have to offer these kind of benefits.” She said the benefits to employers extend even beyond recruiting or retaining members of same-sex couples. “Young people want to know that they’re working for an employer who has those kind of inclusive benefit practices,” she said, even if they don’t personally gain from the policies.

Other governments in Colorado offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees, including the cities of Boulder, Glendale, Aspen, Crested Butte and Telluride, and Summit, Boulder and Morgan counties. The city of Colorado Springs offered the benefits for a time earlier in the decade until 2003, when its city council voted to drop the benefits. A move later that year to allow benefits to same-sex partners who picked up 100 percent of the cost was repealed the next year, which leaves it, along with Aurora, as the largest municipalities in the state without same-sex benefits.

It’s not even an issue as far as I’m concerned,” Beer said. “I would be surprised if it didn’t pass,” he said, but added, “I’ve been surprised before.”

If Aurora lawmakers OK the new personnel policy Monday, it would advance to a formal city council meeting for final approval.