published Saturday, August 24th, 2013

Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson to introduce plan for same-sex marriage health benefits

Chris Anderson
Chris Anderson
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Should Chattanooga extend benefits to employees' same-sex partners?

Chattanooga City Councilman Chris Anderson said he’s working on legislation that would likely give health insurance and benefits to city employees with same-sex spouses or domestic partners.

Anderson plans to introduce the policy change in September or October in a move that would mirror Collegedale’s policy shift earlier this month.

“Folks in Collegedale are already giving me a hard time,” said Anderson, who is openly gay.

His plan comes as supporters announced a same-sex marriage rally set for Aug. 31 on the steps of City Hall. More than 200 people are expected. Speakers include Anderson and Kat Cooper, the Collegedale detective who successfully pushed for that city to change its benefits policy.

That is also the day Tennessee lawmakers set aside this year to honor traditional marriage. In April, legislators passed a resolution designating Aug. 31 as a day to celebrate marriage. The resolution cites Genesis 2:24, which states marriage “is expressed only between a man and a wife.”

The General Assembly’s action prompted a challenge from a Nashville-based advocacy group that planned events across the state in support of same-sex marriage.

“A rally in itself isn’t going to bring marriage equality. It takes legal challenge in the courts,” said Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project. “It really shows the Legislature we’re not all of one mind in Tennessee.”

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, downplayed the rally.

“It’s obviously a great publicity ploy to have [the equality rally] on that day,” he said. “But it’s America so they can have it when they want.”

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Choosing City Hall as the location for Chattanooga’s rally is significant, according to organizers who said they want to send a message that elected officials should support equal benefits for everyone.

“Change in policies is something we hope to see in Chattanooga soon,” said local artist Marcus Ellsworth, who is organizing the local rally.

A Vanderbilt University poll released this spring showed attitudes among residents of the Volunteer State, which has a constitutional ban on same-sex unions, are changing. Nearly half of poll respondents said they favored either same-sex marriage or civil unions, according to a survey of 813 Tennessee residents. Two years ago, that figure was 31 percent.

Another question asked whether health insurance and other employee benefits should be extended to same-sex partners. Sixty-two percent of those polled said yes, 31 percent said no and the remainder didn’t answer or weren’t sure.

Still, several council members said it’s too early to say whether they would support such a change.

Councilman Chip Henderson said that while he supports marriage as being between a man and a woman, he needs more time to evaluate what Anderson would be propose.

Councilman Larry Grohn said he prefers that government stay out of people’s personal lives but he questioned whether Anderson should be allowed to vote on such a resolution because of a conflict of interest.

“If he puts forth legislation and expects the government to vote on whether his partner will directly benefit, will he recuse himself?” Grohn asked.

Anderson said that is not a fair question, because council members often vote on legislation that benefits themselves or their spouses.

“That mentality is the same as saying black legislators shouldn’t have been able to vote on desegregation 60 years ago,” he said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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