There is not much that has elicited such a divide and strong emotion for many residents of Chattanooga as the domestic partnership ordinance. Last November the City Council narrowly passed the measure in a 5-4 vote, but a petition signed by more than 11,000 voters blocked it.
As a result, Chattanooga voters will decide Thursday whether to pass or permanently defeat the ordinance that would extend health benefits to city employees' girlfriends and boyfriends (either same-sex or heterosexual) and their dependents.
A quick review of what's at stake, though, is in order.
For many voters in Chattanooga this is a faith issue. Their faith informs them that marriage is between one man and one woman and other sexual relationships outside of marriage are immoral. They see the harm these other relationships cause to the family, the foundational building block of all societies. As goes the family so goes a nation. Any wonder why Chattanooga is facing such a crisis in the inner city? Sadly though, proponents of the ordinance have condemned those who simply choose to follow their faith, calling them bigots. How quickly they forget that in 2008 candidate Barack Obama asserted, "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman." It's noteworthy that Tennessee's constitution defines marriage in this same manner.
For other Chattanoogans though this is a finance issue. At a time when the city's budget is under constant strain and there are regular efforts to minimize costs, it is irresponsible to extend benefits to a new group of individuals who are not even related to a city employee.
Furthermore, if budgets are such that retirement benefits have been cut, how responsible is it to increase the city's health costs for nonemployees? During the City Council's discussion of the ordinance, Chattanooga officials acknowledged that they did not know how much this ordinance would end up costing the city. Additionally Chattanooga's chief financial officer reported that the city's health plan costs have increased 53 percent in five years.
Finally, this is a fairness issue. This ordinance could have been more aptly named the "Sex" ordinance because if there's no sex (platonic relationship) then no benefits are extended under this ordinance.
Don't believe me?
Read the ordinance: "The city employee and the domestic partner have chosen to share one another's lives in a nonplatonic ... relationship." But then it forbids the benefits to family members of city employees, with obviously just a platonic (nonsexual) relationship by stating: "The city employee and domestic partner cannot be lineal ancestors ... or related to a degree of kinship that would prevent marriage under the laws of Tennessee." This ordinance, sponsored by City Councilman Chris Anderson, specifically excludes family members from qualifying for the benefit since they obviously will not share intimate relations. So if you are a city employee who is single and you have an adult family member living with you then they do not qualify for these benefits. Sorry, tough luck!
So, it's very clear to many Chattanoogans that this ordinance is not about fairness. It's financially irresponsible. And for many, it violates their faith.
As a result, please be sure to vote against this ordinance, which is the last question on the ballot, on Aug. 7.
Your city's future is in your hands. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever!
Mark West in president of Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency.