Cobb County city approves health care benefits for gay employees

The Smyrna City Council voted 5-2 Monday to extend health care benefits to the spouses of gay married couples with some voicing their opinion that Georgia’s law prohibiting same-sex marriage will soon be reversed like others states in the nation. The vote comes approximately a year after the legislation was first proposed.

Smyrna is the first city in conservative Cobb County to do offer such benefits to gay people, according to Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon.

“There’s other cities that have this—not a whole lot of them. There’s not a city in Cobb County that has this,” Bacon said, according to a story in the Marietta Daily Journal.

The benefits are for the spouses of gay couples who are legally married in states where same-sex marriage is recognized.

Smyrna already provides legally-married same-sex couples retirement benefits in compliance with the Georgia Municipal Association’s policy that follows the mandate issued by the IRS after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a major portion of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

Before the Monday vote, each of the Smyrna council members explained their positions.

Councilman Wade Lnenicka, who proposed the policy, said now was time the city joined the majority of states in the country to treat everyone equally, according to the MDJ.

“As of this week, 36 states and the District of Columbia now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and maybe in some of the other states, certain counties and cities do. So, it’s increasingly going to put us in a situation where if someone shows up in the city’s HR department with a valid marriage license issued by a state or a county or a city, do we deny them benefits that other married couples get? I just don’t think we should discriminate against people for any reason,” Lnenicka said.

Councilmember Teri Anulewicz said she she believes Georgia will soon recognize same-sex marriage.

“I think it’s inevitable that Georgia will join the list of states that allow same-sex marriage. I think it’s right to make the decision tonight rather than wait for the federal government to mandate it,” she said.

Councilmember Charles Pritchett, however, said he could not vote in favor of such a law when the state does not recognize same-sex marriage.

“I just can’t sit up here and vote and force the people of Smyrna to use any taxpayer money to do something that goes against the state law,” Welch said, according to the MDJ.

Symrna City Attorney Scott Cochran also advised the board that he believed Georgia would soon be joining other states in recognizing same-sex marriage.

“There’s a state law that says that same-sex marriages—even if obtained in a state that allows it—they are not recognized in the state of Georgia and they are null and void. My guess is (Georgia’s law) is going to be stricken,” he said.

There were naysayers who attended the meeting and said the vote went against the Bible’s teachings.

“I applaud the two people who voted against this issue. I hear this comment about the Bill of Rights, well the Bible goes way before that. I hear the comment about that same-sex marriage is going to be recognized in Georgia. Well, it hasn’t. Until it has, this is forced law,” said Alex Backry, a Smryna resident.

For Lnenicka, who proposed the legislation, the policy is about being fair.

“I’m not trying to redefine what the state law is on marriage, and I’m certainly not trying to redefine biblical interpretations of marriage. I’m simply saying now 36 states and the District of Columbia recognize and issue licenses for gay marriage. How do we deny those people benefits that other people enjoy?” Lnenicka asked.

Last year, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four couples and a widow challenging Georgia’s same-sex marriage ban. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and for eight months Olens and Lambda Legal have been filing documents in support of their claims.

When U.S. District Court Judge William Duffey will decide on the motion to dismiss—which must come first before any kind of ruling on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal in Georgia—is unknown.

Other cities and counties in Georgia offering health care benefits to same-sex couples include Atlanta, Fulton County, DeKalb County, Doraville, Clarkston, Savannah, and Athens-Clarke County.

Read the entire story on the Smyrna council vote at the MDJ by clicking here.