published Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Chattanooga same-sex benefits hearing is today


• What: Public hearing on same-sex benefits

• When: 3:30 p.m. today.

• Where: City Council Chambers, 1000 Lindsay St.

• What: City Council meeting

• When: 6 p.m. today

• Where: City Council Chambers, 1000 Lindsay St.

Will you attend the public hearing on same-sex benefits?
City Ordinance on Equal Benefits
City Ordinance on Equal Benefits

As the crowd streamed from last week's Chattanooga City Council meeting, Collegedale Detective Kat Cooper stood on the lawn and faced a gathering group.

It had been three months since the gay detective pushed for leaders in her community to allow her partner to be included on her insurance. Officials approved the policy change, making Collegedale the first city in Tennessee to offer benefits to couples in same-sex partnerships. Now Cooper is at the forefront of the debate in Chattanooga, encouraging supporters to unite before the City Council one last time.

"One must take initiative to affect change in needed times of change," Cooper said to the crowd. "Equal rights aren't a debate. They should be a given."

On the other side, Temple Baptist Church Pastor Shad Smith said he has met with pastors across the city in the past week and he knows of multiple congregations gathering to fast and pray for God's will to be done.

"The reason we're so passionate about this is we feel as a church it's a moral issue," Smith said. "It's an attempt to break away the very foundation of our city and our country -- which is family."

Regardless of what residents believe, today is the last day to speak publicly to the City Council on the topic. Once the bill goes on the agenda for the council's Nov. 12 meeting, residents aren't allowed to publicly address the whole council, which is standard for any topic.

The number of those for and against Councilman Chris Anderson's proposal to expand benefits to city employees in domestic partnerships, including gay couples, has grown with each successive City Council meeting. Last week, there was standing room only. The crowd is expected to swell today, too, a week before Anderson will formally introduce the bill.

Anderson's bill also proposes updating the city's nondiscrimination clause to include gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.

"We are the largest city in Tennessee that can terminate city employees solely due to sexual orientation," Anderson said. "Changing that must be a part of treating all our employees equally and fairly."

Because this is such an important issue for so many people, Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem said, he decided to have a public hearing for both sides to have a chance to make their case. The council is prepared to have an extra officer on duty and may offer an overflow room if the annex building reaches the fire code limit, Hakeem said.

He also has set strict rules on how people will be allowed to speak at the 3:30 hearing.

Residents who want to speak have to sign in and state whether they are for or against the bill. Then Hakeem will pick a person from each side, each getting three minutes to talk.

"The reason for that is so we can go back and forth and we don't want to get loaded down on one side or the other," he said.

And anyone who speaks at the 3:30 p.m. public hearing won't be allowed to talk during the comment section of the regular City Council meeting at 6 p.m.

Voices on both side of the issue say they plan to be in the crowd today.

Those in favor of Anderson's proposal argue that turning down the measure would mean the city is denying workers equal rights. Those against the bill argue that the definition of marriage is at stake and that council members can't ignore the Bible.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.

Live updates from the Chattanooga same-sex benefits hearing
about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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