John W. Eyster: Rock County Board should approve same-sex benefits resolution
I ask our Rock County Board to approve Resolution #14-1B-498 – “Approving Health Insurance Benefits For Employees In Same-Sex Relationships Who Meet Eligibility Requirements” when they meet on Thursday, January 23, 2014 convening at 6 pm. I will be there. I encourage citizens of Rock County to be present to support the Supervisors to do what is ethically/morally RIGHT! See YOU there?
I urge you to read the actual text of the Resolution as well as the Executive Summary. These documents are available online when you access the Agenda for Thursday's meeting and scroll down through the pdf document to the Resolution and then the Executive Summary.
I believe the Resolution provides the key REASONS the Resolution should be approved with the “WHEREAS” notes which include: (1) general commitment to non-discrimination as articulated in the county's ordinances and policies, (2) citation of the fact that numerous employers, public and private, have provided benefits to same gender domestic partners and their dependents, (3) providing benefits for ALL employees in legal relations (legal marriage or legal domestic partnership) is key to being able to attract qualified persons to jobs serving Rock County, (4) recognition that benefits are part and parcel of the compensation provided to Rock County employees. Equity demands that ALL employees and their partners/spouses have benefits!
For those who are concerned about abuse of the benefits, the Resolution sets the specific requirement that same-sex benefits would be extended only to persons registered with the WISCONSIN DOMESTIC PARTNER REGISTRY.
The Resolution has had valuable discussion with public comments as it was considered by the Finance Committee where it passed 3 to 2 and the Personnel Committee where it failed 4 to 2. I have read the articles by Catherine W. Idzerda in our Janesville Gazette.
“Rock County Board committee votes 3-2 in favor of same-sex benefits” – January 2, 2014 – This article notes that the cities of Beloit, Janesville, Milton, Evansville, village of Clinton, Blackhawk Technical College and the Janesville School District all extend benefits to same-sex partners. The Board's vice-chair, who is also a member of the Committee, Sandy Kraft, voted for the Resolution and reminded the Committee, “We say that Rock County is a nondiscriminatory organization. If we follow what we say, this just seems to fit in.” I agree with Kraft. TALK-TALK… let's see the WALK NOW! What do YOU think?
Our Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden testified to the Committee that there is an officer in his department who has a same-sex domestic partner. He asserted that it is not fair that she is not able to extend benefits to her legal domestic partner. He is quoted in the article from an interview after the meeting, “This is the right thing to do. History will judge whether we were a leader on this or whether we had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to do what will eventually be inevitable.” I agree with Spoden. It is the RIGHT THING TO DO NOW. Our American commitment to EQUALITY envision in our founding documents (Declaration of Independence and US Constitution and Fourteenth Amendment) will come to fruition. I believe that EQUALITY is NOW going to HAPPEN before our next presidential election. Forewarned is forearmed. What do YOU think?
I was surprised and DISappointed to read Idzerda's article reporting on the Board's staff committee which voted NO – 4 to 2 – against same-sex benefits Resolution. Very surprising in context with the TESTIMONY which had been given to the committee. The article reports that about 20 persons attended the committee meeting and shared testimony which UNANIMOUSLY supported the same-sex benefits Resolution.
I agree with Idzerda that the MOST PERSONAL testimony came from Mary Kay Vukovich who shared her life situation with a legal domestic partner. She expressed her desire to extend benefits to her partner. She asserted, and I AGREE, this is not about religious beliefs, it is about being FAIR and EQUITABLE!
I was impressed by the testimony which reminded us all that these public servants respond to us without any consideration as to OUR status. WHY do we discriminate with lower compensation for these public servants on the basis of their status?
Jim Hay articulated his experience working on a committee at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Janesville as that congregation considered its openness to persons regardless of sexual orientation (LGBT). He reported that he had been surprised to learn that many members of the church in their 70s and 80s were supportive of the church becoming “open and affirming” of gender identity and status. The congregation voted to register with the national United Church of Christ's as “ONA.”
You can access the full list of UCC congregations and screen to find the officially “Open and Affirming” congregations. You may want to open that website to check on the listing of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Janesville. I would note that the Congregational United Church of Christ in Edgerton is ONA too. I myself would choose to participate in an ONA congregation. How would YOU choose? In terms of “Christian” churches, there are congregations in denominations which are ONA and others which are absolutely closed to persons of same-sex orientation. I myself would assert that in our American political culture with separation of church and state, I accept churches which do NOT accept equality of ALL persons in their systems, but our political culture is committed to FULL EQUALITY for ALL PERSONS!
I think we need to remind our elected officials - SUPERVISORS - serving on the Rock County Board that when they took the OATH OF OFFICE they SWORE/AFFIRMED to support the US Constitution and the WI Constitution and “faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of said office to the best of my ability. So help me God.” You are welcome to read the “Official Oath.”
Elected officials, including our Rock County Supervisors, have accountability to the US & WI Constitutions and the whole community. They are not in office to serve themselves or their personal ideologies. What do YOU think?
You can communicate with YOUR representative in our Rock County Board easily using the “Supervisors & Districts” chart, which provides phone numbers and email addresses.
I hope that our Rock County Board will take the RIGHT STEP forward to FULL EQUALITY of employees by approving the Same-Sex Benefits Resolution during their meeting on Thursday, January 23 at 6 PM. What do YOU hope?
John W. Eyster lives in the Edgerton area. He is an adjunct professor of political science at UW-Whitewater and an advocate for Project Citizen, a model curriculum for democracy/civics education in Wisconsin high schools. John is a community blogger and is not a part of The Gazette staff. His opinion is not necessarily that of the The Gazette staff or management.