Margate to offer same-sex couples city health benefits
By Lisa J. Huriash, Sun Sentinel
May 10, 2014
Margate will now offer same-sex couples the same employee benefits as heterosexual couples who are married.
The City Commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday to extend the benefits to gay couples who have been legally married in another state or are in a domestic partnership. Benefits include city-sponsored group health insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, the Employee Assistance Program and FMLA, which covers maternity leave, bereavement leave, and sick leave to care for domestic partners and their dependents.
The new policy also covers heterosexual couples in a domestic partnership.
"We should treat our employees equally, we shouldn't value one person's relationship over another one," said Mayor Lesa "Le" Peerman, an openly gay mayor who plans to marry her partner of 19 years in New York this summer. "Everybody should have the right to take care of the people they love."
The move wasn't without controversy. Two commissioners, Vice Mayor Joanne Simone and Commissioner Tommy Ruzzano, voted against the measure.
Ruzzano said the issue should have gone to a voter referendum to let the residents decide.
Argued Peerman: "It's not the responsibility for voters to decide what benefits employees get."
To qualify for benefits, employees must show proof that the couple lives at the same address, such as mortgage or lease documents, or driver's licenses. They must also present documentation showing the couple is unified, such as a statement from a joint bank account, proof of a beneficiary designation form for a retirement plan, a life insurance policy showing one domestic partner as the beneficiary of the other, or wills that designate the other as primary beneficiary.
Ruzzano said the city rushed into approval with only an estimate of what it would cost taxpayers. As many as 15 employees could take advantage of this new benefit, which will cost the city nearly $160,000 per year.
"Basically, you don't have to get married to get the benefits of a partner. I don't think that's setting a good example," Ruzzano said. "To me, marriage is a contract whether same sex or opposite sex. When you go into the contract you know what you're going into and benefits do come into play."
Once gay marriage is recognized in the state, Ruzzano said, "we can act on it, but now it's a little too premature."
The debate could become an election issue.
Anthony Caggiano, who is running against Peerman in November, said the costs could skyrocket.
"We're not some rich city," he said. "This is open to tremendous abuse because roommates could say they are partners for the benefits."
He will campaign to undo the city policy for domestic partners, but still allow benefits for spouses of same-sex couples who were married in another state, which "shows a basis of commitment I will accept," he said.
City Manager Jerry Blough said the open enrollment period will begin within the next several months.
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