Chapter 6. Requiring Equal Benefits for Domestic Partners
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156 1 . i n t r o d u c t i o n In 1996, San Francisco enacted the first equal benefits ordinance (EBO) in the nation.1 An EBO requires local government contractors to provide benefits to unmarried partners of employees on the same terms that they are provided to spouses. Since 1996, nineteen other localities and one state, California, have passed similar laws. *Portions of this chapter are based on or appeared in Christy Mallory and Brad Sears, “An Evaluation of Local Laws Requiring Government Contractors to Offer Equal Benefits to Domestic Partners,” Williams Institute, Los Angeles, 2012, http://williamsinstitute.law .ucla.edu. 1 Although state-level laws are not called ordinances, the abbreviation “EBO” as used in this report refers also to California’s equal benefits law. The abbreviation is used for simplicity. S I X Requiring Equal Benefits for Domestic Partners Christy Mallory and Brad Sears r e q u i r i n g e q ua l b e n e f i t s f o r d o m e s t i c pa r t n e r s 157 San Francisco’s pioneering ordinance passed unanimously. The mayor predicted that other jurisdictions would follow San Francisco’s lead, and the City stated that both employees and employers would benefit because of it. However, the ordinance also generated some criticism, which focused mainly on the potential administrative costs and burden associated with enforcing the EBO. Similar arguments for and against EBOs have been raised since in other jurisdictions. This chapter evaluates the implementation and enforcement of San Francisco’s EBO and those that followed in order to determine the positive effects of these laws and the validity of arguments made against them. It is based on an original survey of the twenty-one jurisdictions that have passed EBOs, as well as ten other studies conducted by four of these jurisdictions. Our analysis also considers how San Francisco’s early experience may differ from that of jurisdictions that adopted EBOs more recently and jurisdictions that adopt EBOs in the future. In addition, we discuss the implications of the findings for a federal EBO policy. 2 . s a n f r a n c i s c o ’ s e q ua l b e n e f i t s o r d i n a n c e In 1996, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the first “equal benefits ordinance.”2 When San Francisco conceptualized the EBO, it was focused on the benefits that would accrue to employees. The City stated that it enacted the ordinance as an “attempt[ ] to address one aspect of discrimination” faced by LGBT people in the workplace. Specifically, same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual partners generally did not have access to employment benefits that, at the time, were tied to marital status.3 2 “San Francisco to Expand Its Domestic Partners Law; Pressure from Hill Doesn’t Affect Board,” Washington Post, Aug. 11, 1998, A11. See generally S.F., Cal. Admin. Code§ 12B.2 (2009). 3 San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Overview of the Equal Benefits Ordinance, available at www.sf-hrc.org/ftp/uploadedfiles/sfhumanrights/docs/over12b.pdf. Last accessed July 9, 2012. 158 t h e b e n e f i t m a n d a t e s After the EBO passed, opponents argued that it would create problems for the local government and for its private sector contractors. For example, some argued that the city would lose contractors or would not have the best contractors if they were required to comply with a policy that reached beyond federal and state laws.4 Others criticized the ordinance as “extreme” and “unworkable,” arguing that it would be costly to enforce and administratively burdensome for the local government.5 One opponent, citing vendor markups that result in higher costs of contracting for the City, called the EBO “the expensive white elephant standing in the middle of the room that no one wants to mention.”6 A member of Congress led an effort to restrict federal funding to San Francisco because its EBO required private businesses “to adopt a policy they find morally objectionable.”7 Over the past fifteen years, San Francisco has conducted several evaluations of its EBO. The evaluations show that the ordinance has positive effects on both employees and employers.8 First, through the EBO San Francisco accomplished its goal of increasing the number of employees...


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Subject Headings

  • Labor policy -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Labor laws and legislation -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Wages -- Government policy -- California -- San Francisco.
  • Employee rights -- California -- San Francisco.
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