An ordinance under consideration at City Hall would extend benefits to employees in legal, same-sex marriages. For now, it may be more symbolic than anything, but city planner Jim Hill says it sends a message that Virginia needs to hear.
"It undercuts the idea that recognizing the civil rights of gays and lesbians is somehow out of the mainstream or is contrary to people's beliefs," says Hill, who has been with his partner for 22 years. "I think it's an important gesture."
The law would expand the city's definition of spouse to include "spouses in same-sex marriages that have legally occurred in other states." Councilmen Parker Agelasto and Chris Hilbert and Council President Charles Samuels are the sponsors.
The council's subcommittee on Governmental Operations will consider the proposal and issue a recommendation to the full council July 25. A public hearing is scheduled for the Sept. 9 council meeting.
The ordinance is nonbinding and if passed, implementation would fall into a gray area because of the state's policy of not recognizing same-sex relationships, says Kevin Clay, a spokesman for Equality Virginia. The General Assembly would need to revisit the 2006 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. "I don't see the Virginia General Assembly getting all progressive on us," Hill says.
More Virginians support same-sex marriage than do not, according to at least one recent poll. But, Hill says, "I think Virginia will have equality for gays and lesbians only when the Supreme Court says it has to."
Until then, he says, the proposed ordinance signals a readiness by the city to confer upon its gay employees the same rights and benefits of its straight employees. And, he says, it echoes the sentiment of the June 26 Supreme Court ruling, which struck down as unconstitutional part of the Defense Against Marriage Act and its bar against federal benefits for legally married, same-sex couples.
Hill, 52, has worked for the city for 12 years. He and his partner, Doug, aren't legally married. But with the recent Supreme Court ruling, he says they're making plans.
Hill says he knows of a few other city employees who might benefit and of one other who also plans to get married.
"There may well be some other employees who are already married," he says. "Generally, the city is very broad-minded and accommodating. I think it's wonderful of them to go on the record that they want to do this if the state permits."