Lambda Supports City of Atlanta's Fight for Domestic Partnership Benefits
(NEW YORK, May 8, 1997) Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund was joined by a host of Georgia civil rights groups Thursday in defending Atlanta's effort to extend health benefits to dependent domestic partners of City workers.
Lambda and its Georgia allies filed a joint friend-of-the-court brief with the Georgia Supreme Court in City of Atlanta v. Morgan, the case stemming from the Atlanta City Council's passage of a limited domestic partnership benefits ordinance.
"The domestic partner benefits ordinance helps keep Atlanta competitive in the employment market," said Lambda Managing Attorney Ruth E. Harlow. "This also is a low-cost and lawful way for Atlanta to widen its health safety net. The Georgia Supreme Court should allow the health benefits plan to take effect," she said.
The trend in offering domestic partner benefits is escalating among both public and private employers throughout the country. The Morgan case presents the question of whether local governments in Georgia have the power to grant health coverage to the dependent domestic partners of their employees. The Lambda amicus brief argues that Georgia law explicitly grants such power, which Atlanta has exercised with care.
"Mayor Campbell and Atlanta's City Council have done the right thing by responding to the needs and diversity of the City's workforce and offering this insurance coverage," said Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart. "Domestic partner benefits are particularly important for lesbian and gay couples. Atlanta's adoption of this benefits plan is an admirable step toward equalizing benefits for all employees," he said.
Joining Lambda on the brief are the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 1644, the Atlanta Executive Network, the Georgia Equality Project, the National Employment Lawyers Association - Georgia Chapter, the Service Employees International Union Local 1985, and the Stonewall Bar Association of Georgia.
The case was brought by Lamar Morgan, a lone City resident who contends that Atlanta did not have the power to enact such an ordinance. Lambda and other civil rights groups are supporting Atlanta's appeal of a lower court ruling which agreed with Morgan's view that the ordinance is identical to a 1993 Atlanta benefits law struck down in McKinney v. City of Atlanta.
In fact, as Lambda's brief argues, the ordinance now at issue focuses on the dependents of City employees and differs greatly from the McKinney benefits law.
Atlanta's new domestic partnership ordinance offers health benefits to partners of City employees when the couple has registered as a partnership and the partner is dependent upon the City employee for financial support. Under the program, same- or opposite-sex couples can take advantage of the insurance, although they must pay 25%, and in some instances 100%, of the premiums to the City.
The design of the ordinance was based on Georgia state law explicitly granting municipalities the power to provide insurance benefits to their employees and the dependents of those employees.
(City of Atlanta v. Morgan, Case No. S 97 A 1068)