In one quick, undisputed vote, the Kansas City Council sealed its commitment to fairness for same-sex couples.
Thursday’s decision to extend pension benefits is likely the last such action this council or any in the coming years will need to take. Everything else has already been accomplished.
Kay Barnes was mayor when the council in 2004 approved benefits such as health insurance to be offered to domestic partners of city employees.
“We were well ahead of the mainstream,” said Gary O’Bannon, the city’s human resources director. Benefits such as sick leave and funeral leave were also included.
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But this final step on pensions couldn’t be taken until recent court decisions allowed the city to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. That opened the legal route for the city to amend its pension ordinances to define spouse and surviving spouse to include the husband or wife of an eligible employee lawfully married in any jurisdiction.
“This is one more example of our commitment to be inclusive to all our citizens,” said Councilwoman Jan Marcason.
So much of the anger toward same-sex marriage swirls around religious perspectives, but it’s these bread-and-butter financial aspects of life that deserve note. Without having same-sex marriage legally recognized by government, public employers are limited in what they can also offer.
Previous councils had seen the issue strictly as one of civil rights, equitable treatment for all employees, O’Bannon said. Later the issue became framed as an employment issue, benefits the city could point to for retaining and drawing good workers.
Prior to those workplace discussions, it was under Mayor Emanuel Cleaver that the city began acknowledging Kansas City’s annual gay pride parade. The backlash was swift and angry. That was then.
Workforce magazine gave the city its 2014 Optimas Award for Benefits. The award noted how the city restructured its benefits program to any employee in a committed relationship:
“To avoid creating a morality or equal-rights issue that would invite resistance from gay-rights opponents, the government packaged its initiative as a way to ensure benefits to as many eligible employees and their dependents as feasible.”
A vote by 13 council members cleared this final hurdle. But it was the diligence and, when necessary, brave stands by many people through the years that brought the city this far.