Chattanooga voters reject partner benefits for city employees

Chattanooga voters reject partner benefits for city employees

August 8th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

City councilman Chris Anderson reacts to polling results at Democratic headquarters Thursday.

Photo by Logan Foll/Times Free Press.

Nearly a year of public debate over whether Chattanooga should provide benefits to its employees' gay or straight partners ended at the polls Thursday with a resounding "no."

The domestic partner benefits ordinance was rejected by 5,501 votes.

Chattanooga Tea Party President Mark West said he hopes the City Council and Mayor Andy Berke honor "the will of the people."

"What we want them to take away from this is that the people have spoken," he said.

Meanwhile, those in favor of the ordinance said the outcome was disappointing and will have negative consequences for the city, but they did see the effort as beneficial.

"Our campaign for fairness and equality brought together churches, dozens of faith leaders, businesses from around this city and this state," said Spencer White, the YES Chattanooga campaign director.

Councilman Chris Anderson, who introduced the ordinance, did not return calls seeking comment late Thursday night.

Anderson, the city's first openly gay councilman, originally announced last August that he would introduce legislation to give equal rights to city employees with same-sex spouses or domestic partners. The measure was expanded to include the domestic unmarried partners -- gay or straight -- of all city employees.

For months both sides debated the significance of such a change, and flocked to City Council meetings each week to argue their points. Folks in favor argued that the ordinance stood for equality.

Many of those opposed to the measure, some clutching Bibles, argued that being gay is a choice and that their tax dollars shouldn't go to pay for something that runs counter to their beliefs.

On Nov. 19, the City Council approved the ordinance by a final vote of 5-3, allowing employees to add their partners, with whom they have lived for a year or more, to their insurance.

The next day, the watchdog group Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency launched a petition drive to put the measure to a public vote. Within two weeks the group had collected nearly 8,000 valid signatures -- almost double what was required by law.

Getting the measure placed on Thursday's ballot blocked implementation of the ordinance.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.