Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Column 147 – IVGID Board Revokes Domestic Partner Benefits

The published vision of IVGID says, in part, "we will maintain the reputation of our Community as an excellent place to live, work, recreate, visit, and invest." The actions of the IVGID Board of Trustees last week in revoking a long-standing policy of providing benefits to domestic partners of employees has done violence to that vision. The story was quickly picked up by the national media, and the reputation of our community is sadly tarnished.

The Bonanza editorial staff did an excellent job of dissecting the issue on Wednesday, and if you have not read the editorial entitled "An Embarrassing Stance," I recommend you find it online and read it carefully. I won't repeat their points here, but do want to weigh in with a couple of my own.

In Wednesday's page one story on the issue, General Manager Bill Horn is quoted as saying "the newspaper has made a controversial issue." I would submit that blaming the newspaper for the controversy is disingenuous on Mr. Horn's part. The Board created the controversy; the newspaper did its job in reporting it.

One fact not sufficiently emphasized, in my view, is that this is not a new policy, but the revocation of an old one. IVGID has offered domestic partner coverage in the past, and stopped doing so when the District changed to a carrier, St. Mary's, that did not offer this coverage at the time. Since then, St. Mary's has started offering the coverage, and it would seem that continuation of this benefit would be a no-brainer. It's interesting to note that, according to their website, Saint Mary's Preferred Health Insurance Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Saint Mary's Health Plans which, in turn, is owned by the Sisters of Saint Dominic. Last I looked, the Catholic Church placed a strong value on marriage, yet here is this health plan offering domestic partner benefits. At least 1300 private companies in the US offer this benefit, as do numerous colleges, universities, and municipalities.

Right now, exactly two IVGID employees are affected by this revocation. These same two were covered before the change of carriers. It seems unlikely that this will open the floodgates, and as pointed out by the Bonanza, the total coverage for these two amounts to 0.14% of the total IVGID budget. Some cost savings.

Other arguments advanced for the revocation are equally specious. The real point of domestic partner benefits is fairness. Marriage, where the government is concerned, is a civil contract. The fact that this contract is also, for many, a religious sacrament is irrelevant to a governmental body – only the civil aspect obtains. For IVGID to provide different benefits to those who choose to enter into this contract, which is a private matter, than to those who for whatever reason do not is unfair on the face of it, and that is why the thousands of entities referenced above have domestic partner benefits. A couple declaring a commitment to each other and signing a contract to that effect is a matter of personal choice – the impact is the same; the difference between partners and spouses is, as a civil matter, a moot point.

So at best, the Board's decision (and kudos to Trustees Epstein and Weinberger for opposing it) is unfair. Worse would be if it is an undeclared attempt to impose someone's private morals on others. Worst would be if this is a misguided and covert expression of homophobia. Most egregious, in my view, is Trustee John Bohn's statement that "I just don't think this community supports [this] and we have to represent our constituents." Mr. Bohn is, of course, entitled to think what he wants. What is outrageous is that he then asserts that following his thought, whatever it is based on, is representing the constituency of Incline Village. This is arrogance worthy of Rush Limbaugh.

So there's really only one principle here, I think, and that principle is fairness and equality – two good old American values. By going against the tide of fairness in this area the Board has failed to live up to its vision and has damaged the reputation of our community. What is called for is a reversal of the decision by the Board before further damage is done.

1 comment:

6731 Tahoe said...

Good work Ed. This is just another shining example of Bohn and Brockman's exceptionally poor leadership on this board. To bad you and Tripp Hudson didn't never got elected.