Friday, March 09, 2007

Kentucky Kills Ban On DP Benefits

Legislative efforts to ban domestic partner benefits at Kentucky's state universities has been defeated in a House committee by just one vote after sailing through the Senate 28-7 last month. Student news reporter Sean Rose writes:

A controversial bill that would ban state agencies from extending health benefits to domestic partners failed in a House committee yesterday.

The bill was one vote short of the required nine to pass in the Health and Welfare Committee in the House of Representatives. The legislation had passed in the Senate by a vote of 28-7-1 in mid-February.Among other institutions, the bill would prohibit universities from offering benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples. UK is considering implementing such a plan, while the University of Louisville became the first public college in the state to launch a partner benefits program in January.

"This was a major victory," said Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, a staunch critic of the proposal. "It was both a hateful piece of legislation and an improper interference in the university."

Scorsone and other opponents of the bill had called it discriminatory against gays. Being in Frankfort and hearing anti-gay comments from legislators was proof enough, Scorsone said."They're championing this bill because of the same-sex couples," Scorsone said. "It's pretty transparent to see what drives these people.

"They can't put lipstick on this pig. It is what it is."

Proponents of the legislation weren't too happy about the bill's defeat. They claim the DP benefits is an end-run around Kentucky's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, the language of which is strikingly similar to Indiana's proposed constitutional ban in SJR-7.

"I personally believe this is an attempt by some folks to go around the marriage amendment," Rep. Bob Damron said referring to the 2004 Kentucky constitutional amendment where voters overwhelmingly defined marriage as a heterosexual institution. "Over 80 percent of Damron's district voted this way, he said.

"Who are we as public officials to tell 80 percent of the public that you don't know what you're talking about?" he said.

Damron refers to the DP benefits as "shack-up benefits." "Damron also said he had spoken with UK employees who would rather the money for these 'shack-up benefits' be used for retirement plans or currently covered employees." "Allowing partner benefits would be irresponsible insurance policy because there wouldn't be enough commitment involved in taking out a policy without marriage as a requirement, leaving the opportunity for employees to take advantage of the system, he said."

This may not be the end of the matter. Opponents of the DP benefits could take the issue to court. It is possible a court would find the same as a Michigan court found earlier this year under its same-sex marriage ban that the reach of Kentucky's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages extends to DP benefits as well on the basis that the benefits represent a "legal incident of marriage."

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