Friday, January 23, 2009

Thank you, Kevin Beckner, for standing up for fairness and equality

Yesterday, Hillsborough County’s new commissioner proposed ending a four-year-old rule prohibiting county staff from studying domestic partner health benefits.

You read that last sentence correctly: from studying domestic partner health benefits. It’s essentially a broadly-worded ban that stops anyone that draws a county paycheck from looking into what has become common practice for many counties, municipalities -- and is considered a best practice for most large companies in North America and Western Europe.

Beckner didn’t propose that the county end the ban, then immediately start implementing domestic partner benefits for employees. Nor did he propose that the county begin an investigation into the feasibility of domestic partner benefits. All he asked is that county staffers, in their professional capacity, be allowed to discuss it.

(Who introduced the rule? Hillsborough's own Anita Bryant, Ronda Storms. You had to ask?)

This being Hillsborough County, Beckner was voted down, 5-2. I’m not in the news business any more, and I don’t follow things as closely as I used to, but as I understand things, most of the criticism fell into two groups:

First, there was the predictable chorus of people who said gay men and lesbians are evil, ergo they are going straight to hell, ergo what’s the point of paying for health care for their partners who are also going straight to hell? (I apologise. These arguments were, in fact, illogical.)

Second, there were people who chided Beckner for having the gall to discuss something that might expand benefits at a time when the county is looking for ways to cut expenses.

My response to this second group: What the fuck!? When is the right time to address fairness, you fuckwits? Do we, as a society, think it’s only OK to repair the oversights and slights of the past when we can fit it into our budget? Equality waits for no budgeting committee.

Gay and lesbian employees deserve equal compensation for their contributions at work as their straight counterparts. This is as true during lean times as it is during the boom years.

Beckner didn’t ask the county for any additional spending, or any additional studies. Even if he had, it would a step in the right direction for a county that has been hobbled to antiequality dogma for much too long. In fact, all Beckner did is ask for restrictions to be lifted so that county officials can discuss options for fairness for employees.

There’s never a bad time for that.

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