The Columbus City Council extended city employee health benefits to same-sex partners and domestic couples last week, an expansion that has been discussed in the community for years.
“There’s been a lot of discussion in the community about it, specifically within the last four or five years,” said Jack Miner, president of the Ohio State GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) Alumni Society. “The community is really excited about it.”
The benefits will go into effect in February 2011, and couples must be living together and share finances to be eligible. The additional benefits will likely cost the city about $650,000 in 2011, according to a press release from last week.
“We are not only doing the right thing by providing domestic partner benefits, we have better positioned the City of Columbus to compete for the most talented employees and have made the City a better place to work,” said Councilmember Andrew J. Ginther, in the release.
Miner said the approval gets the city up to speed with other businesses in the area.
“So many businesses in Columbus — Chase, Ohio State, Nationwide — already had benefits in place,” Miner said. “It was very interesting because we ended up seeing a lot of people who weren’t gay and lesbian who had no intention of using the benefits, look favorably upon the benefits.”
Many large cities already had those benefits in place, Miner said, but “the difference in Columbus is that it has a large gay and lesbian population.”
Ena Brnjic, co-chair of OSU’s Human Rights Campaign and a third-year in psychology, said City Council’s health benefit extension is “a very important step to recognize the legitimacy of same-sex couples.”
She said that “a lot more work needs to be done, but this is definitely a high point. Hopefully, down the road, we’ll see Ohio pass same-sex marriage.”
One member of the GLBT community said it is a good step, but he has concerns.
“The problem with gay and lesbian relationships is that a lot of them are open relationships,” said Graig Cote, a lecturer for an AIDS awareness course at OSU. “As long as they’re committed to each other, I don’t see a problem.”
Miner said he thinks Columbus is going in the right direction for those in the GLBT community but needs to continue to grow.
“I think one of the next really big things for the city to think about if they are looking at the gay and lesbian community is looking at other investments for growth,” Miner said. “Cities like Philadelphia have put a lot of resources into turning the city into a tourist attraction for gays and lesbians. It’s an opportunity to put Columbus on the map as a gay and lesbian community.”