Partner benefits nixed in Lehigh Co.

Partner benefits nixed in Lehigh Co.

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Earlier this month, Lehigh County appeared to be on track to become the latest jurisdiction in Pennsylvania to sanction benefits for same-sex spouses of government employees. But the county’s governing board squashed that plan.

Two weeks ago, Lehigh County Executive Matt Croslis vetoed an action by the Lehigh County Commissioners that would have removed his proposal to include same-sex spouses in the health-insurance plan for county employees. However, last week, the commissioners fired back with a veto override, effectively killing chances for the partner benefits at this time.

The original benefits proposal was rejected by the commissioners last month in a 5-4 vote. After Croslis vetoed their action, however, Republican Commissioner Percy Dougherty switched sides, aligning with his fellow party members last Wednesday to achieve the six votes needed to override. The board’s two lone Democrats continued to support the measure; one Republican who had voted for it was not present.

Dougherty had been facing re-election when he voted for the benefits proposal. According to the Express-Times, Dougherty says his change of heart was brought about by his “giving more thought to the issue and talking to various constituents. It’s as simple as that.”

The Express-Times also quotes Republican Vic Mazziotti as saying he opposed the measure primarily for personal religious reasons: “Were I to vote for this, I would be cooperating with behavior that my church does not condone. I’ve discussed it with my pastor, and the conclusion that I’ve reached is that no faithful Catholic could vote for this amendment.”

Croslis, however, attempted to argue before the board that he too is a Catholic but that the county’s current policy is discriminatory.

Currently, Philadelphia, Allentown, Easton, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and State College offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees, although those programs extend to non-married same-sex domestic partners; the proposed Lehigh County measure would have been limited to same-sex couples who were married in jurisdictions that sanction same-sex marriage.

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