After raising a firestorm of anger and disbelief, the Springfield, Illinois Joint Labor/Management Insurance Committee voted to unanimously reinstate health benefits for the civil union partners of city employees. This was a complete reversal from the December decision that shocked and angered LGBT activists and civil rights organizations. The committee had voted to keep its current eligibility standards for insurance for the next fiscal year and not extend benefits to same-sex spouses, despite the new civil union law which extended the same legal rights as marriage to same-sex partners. The move left partners of city employees in civil unions out in the cold for benefits.
The committee said their decision was purely fiscal, initially claiming costs for the benefits would be nearly $750,000. Committee co-chair Melina Tomaras-Collins, who is also the city’s director of human resources, called the move strictly a “cost saving measure” and went on to explain equality vs fiscal concerns:
“It’s not an issue of what’s right or wrong. It becomes a matter of what you can do with resources you have.”
Yet a revised estimate for the six affected couples was only $66,000. More importantly than that, saying that civil rights can be trampled on and disregarded to save a few bucks is a ridiculous and dangerous argument to make in the first place.
Beyond the weak and horrendously offensive fiscal argument, the decision itself was contrary to the state’s civil union law, which plainly stated that civil unions be treated equally as marriages in the state:
“This Act shall be liberally construed and applied to promote its underlying purposes, which are to provide adequate procedures for the certification and registration of a civil union and provide persons entering into a civil union with the obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.”
The committee used the confusion of the different relationship status of same-sex couples and married heterosexual couples to carve out the exemption to civil unions spouses. They cited the benefits for same-sex couples being too costly, which is an argument that would never be accepted when applied to a more universally understood institution like full marriage.
It is good that public outrage eventually made them change their decision and cover all couples equally. It shows the power of a community and its allies coming together in a spirit of equality, activism, and determination. Yet that this was a battle to be fought at all continues to show the very separate and unequal status that civil unions give to same-sex couples.
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