Haslam won’t push for same-sex benefits for state employees, but legislature might let cities do so

Offering health benefits to same-sex partners of public employees has been approved by Collegedale commissioners, and Chattanooga and Knoxville officials are considering doing the same, reports Andy Sher, but at the state level, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is showing little interest in taking up the issue to apply it to state employees.

“First of all, I don’t sense a huge demand from most Tennesseans,” the governor told Times Free Press editors and reporters last week during a wide-ranging discussion of issues.

“If you went across Tennessee and looked at it, to me, it’s just, A: not something where there’s a lot of demand [for], or B: in terms of folks who would favor that,” he said.

….Chris Sanders with the Nashville-based Tennessee Equality Project, which advocates statewide for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, took issue with the governor’s assertion.

“I don’t know whether he [Haslam] read the Vanderbilt poll that came out that said 62 percent, in fact, support it,” Sanders said.

In the Vanderbilt University poll conducted in May, 62 percent of the 813 registered voters surveyed said they supported health insurance and other employee benefits for gay and lesbian domestic workers in general. The specific question about government employees was not asked.

The poll also found that 49 percent of Tennesseans surveyed said they support same-sex marriage or civil unions.

…At the Democratic Executive Committee meeting Saturday in Nashville, Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, cited the poll showing support for benefits for same-sex partners.

It’s “not too far out of the realm” to offer legislation for state employees, she said. But she acknowledged that in the GOP-controlled General Assembly, the reception for any such bill would “not be a very good one.”

…Sanders, with the Tennessee Equality Project, said “there’s a growing demand in the state, at least on the local level,” for benefits to partners of city or county employees.

“We’d love for the same to be offered to state employees.”

(House Majority Leader Gerald) McCormick said he doesn’t see that happening.

“If someone were to try to apply it statewide I think there’d be a lot of resistance” in the Legislature, he said. “I don’t think it would pass. If the city of Chattanooga or the city of Knoxville were to do it, I’m not sure that there’d be that much of a concern.”

Note: There’s what amounts to a separate, albeit related story — on Collegedale’s ordinance, a recent revision to it, and David Fowler of Family Action Council’s perspective on the situation — within Action Andy’s rambling report excerpted here. The whole thing is an interesting read.