Thanks to the efforts of local constituents, advocates and, most notably, Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown, who introduced the Equal Benefits Bill, another milestone in LGBT employment equality may be reached.
On Nov. 16, the Equal Benefits Bill was read at City Council’s Committee on Law and Government and received a favorable recommendation. Therefore, the Equal Benefits Bill will come up for a vote at the Dec. 1 Council session at 10 a.m. A unanimous vote by City Council would help ensure that Philadelphia employees of companies with city contracts will have the same benefits under the law as their heterosexual married counterparts.
The Equal Benefits Bill would amend Title 17 of the Philadelphia Code defining “contracts and procurements.” Under the amendment, a life partnership is defined and can be proven to contractors with an official document “evidencing a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership or equivalent,” the most important clarification in the changes defining a partnership as existing between a man and a man and a woman with a woman.
The threshold is important to note because while it seems high, it would impact a significant number of companies providing both services to the City of Philadelphia. According to “Philadelphia’s General Fund Budget: A Citizen’s Guide,” public information designed to inform the public about the city’s budget, in 2011 the City of Philadelphia will spend $759 million on contracts and leases.
The Equal Benefits Bill has undergone amendments since its inception. Most of the amendments are minor, bringing it in line with definitions and other legal technicalities based on the Fair Practices Ordinance passed in March. The Fair Practices Ordinance extended protections to bar discrimination and provide greater protections for members of the LGBT community who lack protection under federal and state law.
The most significant amendment to the bill includes an insertion of an exemption for religious organizations providing social services. Also, the section on employee’s private right of action has been deleted. Employee’s private right of action is preempted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. Even without the private right of action, the city will be able to enforce its contracts with employers.
Adrian Shanker, board president of Equality Advocates Pennsylvania, gave powerful testimony at the Nov. 16 hearing, stating: “This body has the power to advance legislation that will, once again, make Philadelphia known across the commonwealth as a beacon of progressive ideas and a leader in the struggle for equal rights for all people. The Equal Benefits Bill, quite simply, will make sure that any of the city’s contractors with bids over $250,000, provide same-sex partners of their employees with the same benefits provided to legally married employees.”
Philadelphia’s progressive mentality comes from the force of community members joining together to advocate for causes that are meaningful for them. If passed, the Equal Benefits Bill would be effective July 1, 2012.