The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community of Philadelphia celebrated a victory Friday when the City Council passed the Equal Benefits Bill — a law giving more rights to same-sex couples.
Contractors and subcontractors hired by the city for projects worth at least $250,000 must now offer benefits such as health coverage to the lifetime partners of employees.
Notably, the bill, which was sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, passed unanimously.
“In the 21st century, the battle for equal rights needs to end with equality being the victor,” Brown said in a statement. “We have an opportunity with this bill to take one more important step to ensure that all Philadelphians who are ‘created equal’ are treated equally. Judging one’s employment benefits due to gender of their life partner is not acceptable in this day and age. Period. We will change that standard through the Equal Benefits Bill.”
The unanimous vote is in contrast to a 1998 case, where there was heated controversy over a bill extending same-sex partner benefits to city workers.
According to a Dec. 3 CBS article, Brown said, “It’s a clear signal that we’ve come a mighty long ways from those days in City Council where there were huge debates, arguments and just fights about giving same-sex partners equal rights.”
Contractors who do not follow the new measure could be banned from bidding on future contracts for up to three years.
Members of the Lambda Alliance — Penn’s umbrella organization for LGBT groups — see the bill pushing LGBT legislation in the right direction.
“Obviously this is really exciting. There are not a lot of employers who are extending same-sex partner benefits but that number is definitely growing,” Corinne Rich, chair of the Lambda Alliance and College junior, said. She added that many companies that do offer same-sex partner benefits are large financial firms and those in a higher tax bracket. Granting benefits is not as financially constraining for those firms, she said, so extending these rights to lower-income class workers is “really great.”
According to Rich, this supports the argument that “money shouldn’t take priority, the priority should be the people that work for them.”
“Kudos to Philadelphia,” she added.
College senior Victor Galli, vice chair for Political Affairs of the Lambda Alliance, attributes this success to a city government that has had growing support for the LGBT community in Philadelphia.
While the bill affects a relatively small group of people, Galli believes the legislation will set an important precedent in municipal policy.
He also explained that the bill has a possible long-term impact on the future of LGBT dialogue in the city, one “that happens all too infrequently in a culture traditionally dominated by hypermasculinity and heterosexism.”
“We can only hope that with this step, inroads can be made in a community that can potentially benefit from these discussions,” he added.