published Monday, September 9th, 2013

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke backs benefits for same-sex partners

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NASHVILLE — Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke says he supports ongoing efforts to offer health benefits to same-sex partners of workers on the city's payroll.

"I believe that we should treat everyone equally," Berke said in an interview over the weekend. "And I think that our employees are an important part of the city. We want to make sure we want to find the best ways to treat them equally and fairly."

City Councilman Chris Anderson, who is leading the effort, also wants to create an official nondiscrimination policy against gays and lesbians employed by the city.

Berke said he backs that as well.

"We're examining exactly how to make that a reality, make the equal treatment of our employees a reality with regard to all," the mayor said.

Comments by Berke, a former Democratic state senator, came Saturday night following Tennessee Democrats' annual Jackson Day Dinner fundraiser in Nashville.

Also attending the dinner was Anderson. He welcomed Berke's support.

"Having known Andy Berke for many years, I feel confident that he and I are on the same page as far as all city employees and all Chattanoogans should be treated as equal," he said. "I look forward to working with him on that."

He said he believes "we're going to have a good package that says all city employees should be treated equally regardless of whom they love."

Gay and lesbian activists are advocating for similar policies in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis.

It was the small town of Collegedale, population 8,000, a community with deep roots in the conservative Seventh-day Adventist Church, that acted first. Commissioners this summer enacted a policy offering health benefits to the spouses of workers who are in same-sex marriages conducted in states where they are legal.

Tennessee does not recognize those marriages.

Social conservative David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee questioned the constitutionality and, he said, charged it showed "bigotry and intolerance" toward co-habitating heterosexual couples who are in committed relationships but not married.

Last week, Collegedale commissioners amended the policy to cover employees in a "committed relationship" and living with a "significant other" with an intent to do so "indefinitely" with proof that could include co-signing of property deeds.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said last week he doesn't see the state enacting similar policies.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree press.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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