Clark credited the hard work of LGBT activists who worked on several events over the summer to put their message on the radar of city leaders and likely led to the unanimous vote.
“There’s no doubt in my mind if our community had not risen up and showed we are indeed a powerful force … that we are seizing this moment in history to demand equality, this would not have happened,” he said. “This community has a lot to celebrate today.”
The domestic partner benefits would be offered in 2011 when open enrollment begins and provide health care to partners of gay city employees. Rather than a domestic partner registry, employees who want to participate in the plan will need an affidavit showing they have lived together for at least a year and share financial responsibilities.
“This has been a long haul,” Clark said before the vote. “We [Georgia Equality] started this conversation back in 2007 during the Savannah City Council elections and we asked the candidates if they supported DP benefits.”
In 2007, the Savannah council approved a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation and gender identity.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham praised the domestic partnership vote.
“While we may have a way to go before all employees are treated fairly in the workplace, the actions taken by the City of Savannah prove that offering benefits that value all employees and their families has increasingly become a standard part of operating any municipality or business,” he said in a statement. “Discrimination in any form is simply unacceptable in the workplace.”
Graham also thanked Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Athens-Clarke County Mayor Heidi Davison for reaching out to Savannah’s city leaders. Graham said the two agreed to send letters of support of domestic partner benefits to members of Savannah’s council at the request of Georgia Equality.
“The first-hand experiences of how other municipalities have used such benefits as a cost effective way to recruit and retain top employees was certainly important for city leaders to hear,” Graham said.
Other municipalities in Georgia offering domestic partner benefits in addition to Athens-Clarke and Atlanta are Fulton and DeKalb counties and the cities of East Point, Doraville and Decatur.
Savannah’s Memorial University Medical Center, known as Memorial Health, has offered domestic partner benefits for several years. The non-profit hospital employees some 4,700 people and serves 35 counties in southeast Georgia and South Carolina. Approximately 20 employees participate in the hospital’s domestic partner program, according to TV station WSAV.com.
Some of the major events Savannah LGBT activists held over the summer included the first-ever Queer Power March that attracted hundreds, as well as the 11th annual Savannah Pride fest in September.
Savannah activists also held a rally of hundreds in historic Johnson Square in June after a gay Savannah man, Kieran Daly, was beaten by a U.S. Marine for allegedly winking at him.
Georgia Equality demanded the beating be investigated as a federal hate crime because Georgia does not have a state hate crime law. However, federal authorities and local prosecutors deemed the crime did not fit the criteria as a hate crime.
Only one of the Marines arrested in the attack on Daly was eventually charged.
Top photo: Kevin Clark of Savannah’s chapter of Georgia Equality said it was an ‘historic day’ in the city when the council voted to implement domestic partner benefits for gay employees. (by Dyana Bagby)