"Equal rights aren't a debate. They should be a given."
That was a comment made last week by Collegedale Detective Kat Cooper, who after winning the ground-breaking same-sex benefits approval from the Collegedale City Council three months ago, has been helping lead the crusade in Chattanooga, along with City Councilman Chris Anderson, who also is gay.
On Tuesday, a standing-room-only crowd gathered at City Hall for a hearing on Anderson's proposed domestic partners ordinance. In the council room - capacity 166 listeners, according to the fire marshal (and almost that many standing out in the hall and on the sidewalk) - it was gay and religious tolerance vs. gay and religious intolerance.
Bible verses were thrown about on both sides. Tax and health care cost concerns were raised. Speakers called for social justice. Speakers called for adherence to doctrine. But all were calm - prompted to remain courteous by the unswerving and calm demands of Council Chairman Yusuf Hakeem.
Anderson's proposal would extend medical and other city benefits to opposite and same-sex domestic partners of city employees. It also proposes updating the city's nondiscrimination clause to include gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. Anderson says the matter is both a fairness issue and a business one.
"We are the largest city in Tennessee that can terminate city employees solely due to sexual orientation," he said. "Changing that must be a part of treating all our employees equally and fairly."
He's right, and council members heard from staff advisers that extending benefits to same-sex and other domestic partners would not significantly impact costs in the city. Similar actions in other cities and businesses that have extended benefits over the past decade indicate that Chattanooga's health cost will increase about 1 percent - $160,000. A plus is that it would help the city be more competitive in attracting and maintaining talented employees, advisers said.
At the meeting's end, two speakers summed it up best:
Perrin Lance, executive director of Chattanoogans Organized for Action, told the council that everybody has a family, and many families already look "different." Since his grandparents raised him, his family was different. He says he disagrees with people in Chattanooga who say they support families and unity but are against this proposal.
"This does support families and partnerships and unity. It's a good thing - not just socially and economical, but spiritually, too."
The Rev. Ann Weeks also supports the proposal: "This is about social justice, and social justice is what love looks like in public."