City of Toledo officials expect only a handful of people would sign up under a plan by Mayor Mike Bell to extend health care and other benefits to the domestic partners of city employees, in turn costing the municipality little money.
Couples in a domestic union cannot claim the same tax exemptions as married couples, so health benefits acquired for an unmarried partner would be counted as income on an employee's tax return, city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said.
That could mean thousands of dollars in extra taxes and probably would discourage employees from signing their partners up for the benefits if the mayor's legislation is passed, Ms. Sorgenfrei explained.
RELATED ARTICLE: Benefits eyed for domestic partners of city employees
"There's a financial implication to these folks, given the tax liabilities," she said. "This is different from getting benefits for a spouse or a child."
Speaking to reporters Friday, Mayor Bell estimated the cost to the city of providing domestic partner benefits would be as low as $52,000. The highest it could be is $500,000, although that is unlikely, Ms. Sorgenfrei said.
"We don't anticipate the cost to be very high," Mayor Mike Bell said. "But to be able to be fair to everybody, it's an appropriate cost regardless of what it's going to be, and that's the bottom line."
Government entities with domestic partner policies have experienced a very small percentage of signups for benefits, according to EqualityToledo Community Action, a local advocacy group that helped draft the mayor's proposal.
In Lucas County, four employees out of a work force of about 4,000 have enrolled a partner for benefits.
Cleveland Heights has had no one sign up for domestic partner benefits to date, according to the group's report.
Councilmen and community advocates gathered with the mayor at One Government Center on Friday to support the proposed law.
Mayor Bell has said he will introduce the legislation for council's review on May 1. The legislation would not take effect until the end of the year if it passes, the mayor said.
Council President Joe McNamara said he is fully supportive of the proposal.
"The bottom line is, the city of Toledo should not discriminate what benefits it offers based on race," gender, or sexual orientation, Mr. McNamara said. "This is a basic question of fairness."
Councilman Steven Steel also championed the proposal. "We're a progressive city," he said.
"We can't be thinking about where we've been. We have to think about where we're going. … I think it's important that we stand up and say: 'We don't care about a lot of things about you, as long as you love Toledo like we love Toledo and you take part in our community, then you're welcome.' That's what I think we as a city have to stand for."
The legislation has detractors too.
In a statement from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, Bishop Leonard Blair said the mayor's proposal undermines the importance of marriage.
"This proposed legislation, if adopted, would be a further erosion of the God-given institution of marriage, which is the foundation of a stable, healthy, and prosperous society, as the social sciences have repeatedly demonstrated," the bishop stated.
"All around us we see the painful results of the lack of stable marriages and families, especially for children.
"It is a mistake for government to throw in the towel and say that marriage really doesn't matter by bestowing its benefits on other relationships.
"This only promotes the crossing of moral boundaries," the statement said.
But Rev. Steve Anthony, executive director of Toledo Area Ministries, said he doesn't object because he believes everyone should have access to health insurance.
"To me, it's not a moral issue per se, it's everyone ought to have the opportunity for health insurance," Mr. Anthony said. "If it can be provided in the most inexpensive way possible through this method, then I'm all for it."
If passed by council, the mayor's proposal would extend to domestic partners all benefits available to the spouses and dependent children of city employees, including health and dental insurance.
City employees wishing to register a domestic partner would have to certify their status with Toledo's Domestic Partner Registry.
Both heterosexual and same-sex couples would be eligible for the benefits.
The Domestic Partner Registry, enacted by the previous administration in 2007, allows couples to register their status with the city for a $25 fee but does not extend any benefits. So far, 167 couples from throughout Toledo have signed on to the registry.
To register as domestic partners, couples are required to sign a statement before a notary declaring they live together, are in an exclusive and intimate relationship, and are not blood relatives. No other proof of their status is required.
However, Ms. Sorgenfrei said employees are under penalty of perjury if they lie on the declaration.
Under the domestic partner benefits proposal, employees would also be subject to disciplinary proceedings if they lied about a domestic partner to obtain benefits, she said.
David Mann, president of EqualityToledo Community Action, said if the legislation passes it will bring Toledo in line with thousands of other public and private employers across the country.
"We're not the first city in Ohio to do this, we're not even the first local government in this area to do it," he said.
"This is a matter of fairness for our community.
"It's going to allow the city of Toledo to be a better recruiter and retainer of employees.
"It's going to also send a signal to the community that we're a welcoming place to live."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6272.