News

Rule for equal benefits expands

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

An amendment to King County's equal benefits ordinance will provide health benefits to a greater number of people by expanding the definition of who's covered in a household.

The change makes a difference to faith-based organizations that don't want to provide employment benefits to employees' unmarried or same-sex partners.

Under the 2003 equal benefits ordinance, any agency that maintains a $25,000-or-greater contract with the county has two choices: Provide no benefits at all, or provide benefits to spouses and domestic partners, said Councilman Bob Ferguson, who co-sponsored the legislation with Councilman David Irons.

Ferguson said Catholic Community Services sent a letter to County Executive Ron Sims and the council, expressing its displeasure at having to provide benefits for something it opposes and asking for an exemption.

Officials of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington were unavailable for comment to the Mirror.

Ferguson said he wasn't interested in granting an exemption –– he doesn't disagree with providing domestic partner benefits, he said –– but he did some research and discovered how San Francisco met a similar challenge: The California city expanded its coverage to include another adult living in the same household.

"That adult could be a domestic partner, a spouse, a grandmother. It actually increases the number of people who could be covered," Ferguson said. "It's not highlighting any particular living situation."

The change essentially provides a third option for those agencies who hold $25,000-or-larger contracts to provide valuable services in King County, officials said.

"They're important contracts, but in (the organizations') teachings, they don't support same-sex couples," Ferguson said. "I don't agree with that, but they shouldn't have to go against their teachings."

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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