City Council considers benefits for same-sex couples

Charlottesville leaders approve first reading of ordinance to extend marriage benefits to city employees


At its meeting Monday night, the Charlottesville City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would extend marriage benefits to city employees in same-sex marriages that have legally taken place in other states.

City employees in heterosexual marriages receive benefits including medical, dental, life and disability insurance coverage. The ordinance would be, for the most part, a symbolic one, as Virginia law prohibits the extension of these benefits to marriages the state does not recognize.

Under the Virginia Constitution, Article I section 15-A states “only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.” The ordinance proposed by council would therefore be unenforceable.

“It’s a little more than symbolic, but at a moral level it states that we believe that marriage is marriage,” Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos said.

The message was described as important to the council, as well as personally to Szakos, who believes withholding these benefits from same-sex couples is a civil rights issue.

“It feels like an unjust law,” Szakos said. “We’re beyond that, and we need to recognize that.”

The council vote also recalls concerns University faculty recently expressed about same-sex partner benefits and the possible impact it may have on the University’s ability to attract and retain lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender faculty. Jeff Trammell, former rector of the College of William & Mary, highlighted these concerns in a June letter to rectors and university presidents across the state.

“We must face the reality that today’s Supreme Court rulings add a substantial incentive for our gay and lesbian faculty and staff to leave the commonwealth’s public universities and colleges,” Trammell said in the letter. “The fact is, unless we gain the ability to at least offer basic partner benefits, these valued employees will receive none of these if they stay at our public universities and colleges.”

The ordinance must be approved in a second reading, which will occur at its next meeting, before it can be passed.

related stories