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Tenn. city to offer benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city workers

Tenn. city to offer benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city workers

COLLEGEDALE, Tenn. — Collegedale has become the first Tennessee city to offer benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city workers.

The city of about 6,500 residents just east of Chattanooga adopted the proposal Monday night.

Collegedale City Commission members voted 4-1 in favor. The lone “no” vote came from Mayor John Turner. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Turner cast his vote for 74 residents who had told him they opposed the plan.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do as elected officials, represent the people of our district,” he said.

City police Detective Kat Cooper led the initiative. Under the city’s previous rules, she had been denied health insurance coverage for her spouse, Krista. The couple married in Maryland this spring.

“It is such a huge weight off our shoulders,” Cooper said. “We don’t have to constantly worry about health expenses or sudden emergencies. It’s hard to explain how much this means to us.”

Some speakers questioned the validity of such a policy because the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. City Attorney Sam Elliot said the policy “does not define marriage.”

Collegedale resident Jeff Walton spoke, saying the policy would open the door to further changes.

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“Changing the policy will legitimize same-sex unions by giving those relationships the same status as traditionally defined husband-and-wife marriages,” he said. “That’s a decision with far-reaching consequences for our city and society.”

The newspaper reported the public comment remained civil, with most speakers reading from remarks they had prepared.

Neil Lane said it was shameful that people would stand against what he termed “just plain fairness.”

“Collegedale can look forward,” Lane said. “Show them you are not a backwater little town.”

Under the ordinance, city employees legally married in states that recognize their union will get spouse and family health benefits. The policy goes into effect at the next renewal period of the city’s employee health insurance program in January.

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