Boises new nondiscrimination ordinance protects gays and lesbians from discrimination by private businesses. But the city doesnt provide benefits to same-sex partners of its own employees.
Thats not a slight or an omission, City Council President Maryanne Jordan said. Its what the Idaho Constitution says.
In 2006, Idaho voters passed a constitutional amendment that declares a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state. The ballot they saw went even further, including an effect of adoption statement that said the amendment prohibits recognition by the state of Idaho and its political subdivisions of civil unions, domestic partnerships, or any other relationship that attempts to approximate marriage.
As a political subdivision of the state, the city of Boise is bound to follow that language, said Jordan, who helped craft the nondiscrimination ordinance, which prohibits firing people, kicking them out of their homes and refusing to serve them in public places because of their sexuality or sexual identity. The ordinance passed with a unanimous council vote in December and took effect Jan. 1.
I would like the city to be able to afford benefits to same-sex partners of our employees. I think its only fair. I think its only right, she said. I also know that when I took my oath of office, I said that I would uphold the laws and ordinances of the city and the state.
Not every city in Idaho has the same approach.
In December 2007, a year after the marriage amendment passed, Moscow passed a resolution that extends health insurance contributions to domestic partners of city employees, in addition to spouses of married employees. Like plans that have become increasingly common in private companies over the past decade, Moscow requires the employee and domestic partner to demonstrate they live together and are each others sole domestic partner.
Six weeks after the resolution passed, the Idaho Attorney Generals Office released an opinion that a judge would likely find that this policy violates the Idaho Constitutions Marriage Amendment. Providing benefits to domestic partners constitutes recognition of a domestic legal union other than marriage, then-Deputy Attorney General Mitchell Toryanski wrote.
Moscow continued its policy anyway. The city has yet to face a legal challenge over it, human resources director Leslie Moss said.
Boise isnt likely to follow Moscows footsteps, Jordan said.
If we were to (recognize domestic partnerships) with the documented knowledge that it is viewed by the attorney general as unconstitutional, I think it would be a very irresponsible thing for us to do, she said.
Jordan doesnt see much room for providing benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. If Boise were to extend benefits to all kinds of partnerships girlfriends and boyfriends, for example the pool of beneficiaries would grow so much that it could cripple the citys budget, she said. Boise already contributes an average of $34 million a year to benefits for employees, their spouses and dependents, according to an email from city spokesman Adam Park.
I dont know that there is a work-around, to be honest with you, Jordan said. Its unfortunate that we are not able to afford benefit equality to all of our employees.
Sven Berg: 377-6275