The Savannah City Council unanimously passed a vote today to authorize the city manager to implement a domestic partner program for city employees.

The vote was approved unanimously by the nine-member council.

Savannah council approves domestic partner benefits

Kevin Clark, chair of the Savannah chapter of Georgia Equality, said about 25 LGBT community activists were in attendance at today’s meeting.

“There was an outburst of enthusiastic applause after the vote,” he said. “This is a historic and proud day for the city of Savannah.”

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 passage of today’s vote. He also noted that the community has been working since 2007 to get domestic partner benefits in Savannah.

“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 and provide health care to partners of gay city employees.

Georgia Equality Executive Director, Jeff Graham praised the Savannah council.

“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 of Atlanta and Heidi Davison, mayor of Athens-Clarke County, 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.

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 a rally 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.