Fair Share?

By NEIL MILLER  |  November 19, 2009

Labor is taking an interest in the domestic-partners issue as well.  Domenic Bozzotto, president and business manager of Local 26 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, makes the same point as Scondras.  “Management is obviously paying a lot less toward benefits of a single worker than for a married worker,” he says.  “If you look at it from the angle that all payment in kind should be equal, then singles should get the same kind of coverage, and the same kind of financial contribution [to them] should be made.”

Proponents of domestic-partner coverage argue that society must widen its definition of what constitutes a “family” and, in so doing, they cut to the heart of society’s traditional deference toward marriage.  “A family cannot be designed by church or history,” says Scondras.  “Historical, atavistic definitions of family are inappropriate to 1984.”  Arguing that “we discourage all loving relationships except one—marriage,” Scondras advocates, instead, supporting all “mutually nurturing” relationships.  Following this line of reasoning, he suggests extending the concept of domestic partnership to a variety of domestic arrangements—not just live-in lovers.  His criteria are compassion and need.  Take the example, he says, of a woman who works for the city and takes in her sister-in-law after the sister-in-law’s husband dies.  The two of them live together for many years, and then “some guy who does the same job as she does gets married…, and his wife has an income that exceeds his.  How come the system works in such a way that he gets $1600 more in medical benefits because he is married, but the sister-in-law gets nothing?  Both compassion and need would dictate that she should get something.”

This redefinition of family—whether including only unmarried heterosexual or gay couples and a wider variety of arrangements as well—is exactly what upsets Councilor Tierney.  To Tierney, marriage deserves preferential treatment because “it is important to the survival of the family and the human race.”  Not only is he opposed to gay couples being treated like man and wife, he is opposed to treating unmarried couples that way, too.  “That is a moral, ethical question that is beyond you or me,” he asserts.  If the moral, ethical, and social consequences disturb Tierney, he, as a city councilor, isn’t very happy about the possibly financial consequences either.  “When David [Scondras] went to apply,” asserts Tierney, “I said, ‘David, where does it stop?’ Someone can be living with a woman with four children and he can, as David did, suppose they are married and get put on the family plan.  It could apply to sisters and it could apply to bachelors living together.  There are ramifications to this which we cannot see right now.”

The city of Berkley’s policy treds a middle course between Scondras’s hopes and Tierney’s fears, offering relatively stringent guidelines about who may or may not be a domestic partner.  Under the plan currently covering the city’s school employees (which is expected eventually to extend to all city employees), insurance benefits may apply to domestic partners of employees of the same or opposite sex who reside together, “share the common necessities of life,” and are “responsible for the common welfare” of each other; and the partners must sign an affidavit to that effect.  They may not be related by blood, though it appears that Scondras’s hypothetical sister and sister-in-law might just squeak through.  

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