County rejects domestic partnership benefits for unmarried couples
Kevin Archibald and his partner, Douglas Bednorz, are in many ways a typical Sacramento couple.
They live in a modest house in Curtis Park, with two cars and two dogs. Like many Sacramentans, they work for the government—Sacramento County in this case. They have been together for more than 13 years and plan on spending the rest of their lives together.
“We live about as normal a life as you can imagine,” Bednorz said. “But the county doesn’t consider us normal.”
Sacramento County Board of Supervisors last week voted not to extend domestic partnership benefits to county workers like Archibald and Bednorz, weighing in on the conservative side of what has been a divisive national issue.
The vote came during closed-door negotiations with the Union of Public Employees, Local 1. The contract was overwhelmingly approved by county employees, but some voted against it specifically because it did not include a domestic partnership component.
“It was a decent contract. It’s light-years better than the old contract. But I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for it,” said Bednorz, who works in the county’s Public Guardian office.
The couple is angry that the county doesn’t afford the same benefits to unmarried couples, gay or straight, that are routinely given to married couples. “We’re not asking for anything special. This is something that everybody else takes for granted,” said Archibald, who works in the courthouse.
One such benefit is family leave in cases where a partner becomes ill or has a death or medical emergency in the family.
“God forbid, but if something were to happen to him, I wouldn’t even be able to take a day off,” said Bednorz, noting that family leave is extended to married couples but not to domestic partners.
The lack of domestic partnership benefits also means each of them is covered under separate health plans, even though both work for the county. The couple estimates that they could save about $128 a month if they were able to use the same medical insurance plan.
By rejecting the proposal, the county has fallen behind the private sector and other governments, which have increasingly offered domestic partnership benefits to employees.
The City of Sacramento has kept a domestic partner registry since 1992, and has offered medical benefits to domestic partners since 1998. The State of California began offering medical benefits to domestic partners of the same sex in January of this year, and legislation on family leave is being introduced next month.
The Board of Supervisors vote was split 3-2 on the issue, with supervisors Illa Collin and Roger Dickinson supporting domestic partner benefits and supervisors Don Nottoli, Muriel Johnson and Roger Niello voting against them.
“Only Dickinson and myself have championed domestic partnership benefits. We have always had two votes for this issue, and three against,” said Collin. She added that representatives from the suburban 3rd, 4th and 5th districts have always been opposed, whereas the 1st and 2nd, which include the city of Sacramento, have always been more progressive on the issue.
Dickinson said he was not allowed to go into details of what was discussed in the negotiations, but said that the reasons given for the three no votes ranged from moral reasons to the increased costs.
“I find our failure to extend domestic partnership benefits extremely disappointing,” Dickinson said. He added that many corporations in the region do offer such benefits, and that as the county struggles to hire and hold onto quality employees, the lack of such benefits will mean the county loses out to the private sector.
But beyond such practical considerations, Dickinson said it is an issue of fairness.
“Given the reality of relationships that exist in our community today, it seems simply appropriate to extend such benefits as a matter of equity.”
None of the three supervisors who voted against the proposal were available for comment, despite repeated phone calls. But their moral and monetary concerns just don’t wash with Serra Mentessi, who works in the executive office of the Sacramento County Superior Court.
“In today’s world, it’s just absurd that people can impose their moral boundaries on me. It feels like we’re being punished financially for being gay,” said Mentessi, who has been with her partner Jennifer for four years. She said the couple is planning to raise a child one day.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” Mentessi said, “just like any other couple.”
Mentessi was also one of the few who voted against the new union contract. Ironically, she says that being gay has never been an issue at work. She’s open about her relationship, she gets along great with her boss and likes her job.
“I’m not upset with the union or even with the county,” she said. “I’m just angry at the three supervisors who decided that my family was not a family.”