Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Column 149 – Domestic Partner Benefits Redux

Eighty percent of the IVGID Board got it 100% right last Wednesday. The discussion of reversing their ill-conceived decision to revoke benefits for the domestic partners of IVGID employees got off to a strong start as Trustee Bea Epstein read a statement that was both considered and compassionate in an argument for her motion to reconsider. A surprise came when Trustee Gene Brockman, who had voted for the revocation, said that his concern was based in the current policy's use of a declaration and suggested using an affidavit instead. My dictionary defines an affidavit as "a sworn statement in writing made especially under oath or on affirmation before an authorized magistrate or officer," while a declaration is "a statement made by a party to a legal transaction usually not under oath," so there is a basis for the distinction.

Trustee Chuck Weinberger added a strong statement refuting the three supposed bases for the revocation – finance, danger of abuse, and community sentiment – with clear facts, and after some more conversation, Chairman Ted Fuller opened the floor for public comment from the standing room only crowd, which was overwhelmingly in favor of the motion to reconsider. The most predominant theme of the public comment, particularly an impassioned statement by community activist Barbara Perlman-Whyman, was fairness and equality, and in my view that raised the next hurdle.

Trustee Brockman made the very valid point that married couples were not required to provide proof of their marriage, and if an affidavit were required of domestic partners, then proof of marriage should be required of married couples. So far, so good. He went on, however, to say that in addition to the affidavit of committed relationship, domestic partners should be required to provide other evidence – for example, a joint checking account, joint ownership or lease of a property, which married employees are not required to provide. Oops, there goes the equality. There are plenty of married couples who, for a variety of reasons, don't have joint accounts or joint ownership, and in any case why should any evidence beyond a sworn statement be required? After all, isn't that what a marriage is (in the civil sense) – a sworn statement of commitment?

Here's the deal: there's no such thing as partial equality. To return to the dictionary, "equal" means "identical in mathematical value or logical denotation." Identical. Not similar, not sort of like, not identical up to a point but then one of them has some more, identical. After the 4-1 vote to rescind (about which more in a minute), the Board voted to charge staff with coming up with a new policy that included an affidavit. Hopefully the staff will respond to the Board's and the community's commitment to equality, and come up with a policy that sets equal requirements for all.

Now about that 4-1 vote. After public comment, Trustee John Bohn attempted to thwart the vote, first by conflating the idea of domestic partner benefits with gay marriage and then, in a trifecta of hypocrisy, to suggest that, since the courts have ruled (misguidedly in my view) that the full faith and credit provision of the Constitution did not apply to gay marriage, the Trustees would be violating their oath to uphold the Constitution if they voted for the motion. When it was clear that that tortured "reasoning" was not going to fly, he tried an even more far-fetched idea – that since the majority of Fortune 500 companies have domestic benefit coverage, a minority must not have it. Presumably that was supposed to have some logic to it. Amid cries of "resign" and "recall" from the crowd, Bohn's view was repudiated and the motion, which should have been unanimous, passed 4 to 1. Too bad. A unanimous vote would have gone a long way toward repairing IV/CB's image in the larger world, I guess you can't fix arrogance and Trustee Bohn continues to mistake the limits of his vision for the limits of the world.

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