There wasn’t a single objection last week when Lakewood City
Council supported a measure that allows employees at city hall, in same-sex and
domestic partnerships, to have health care benefits.
That certainly wasn’t the case nearly 14 years ago.
On Jan. 17, 2000, dozens of residents packed into the auditorium at city hall to oppose very similar legislation.
Think health insurance, family medical leave and funeral time.
Many attended that council meeting to support the idea. The rest were “furious and scary,” recalled one city hall employee in attendance that evening.
It was an acrimonious crowd.
“It was a very frightening time and very ugly things were said,” recalled the employee, who asked not to be named in this story.
State Sen. Michael Skindell was a city councilman at the time. He and then-councilwoman Nancy Roth co-sponsored the legislation.
“We were sure we would have the votes, but when it came to the floor, it did not,” Skindell recently told Lakewood Patch. “Two council members, who assured us that we would have their vote, did not keep their assurances to us.”
The vote failed, 5-2.
The council members who opposed the legislation were Ed FitzGerald, Bob Seelie, Thomas George, Brian Corrigan and Pam Smith.
Public opinion has swung quite a bit since 1999.
Effective Jan. 1, 2014, the city will offer health and welfare benefits to include eligibility to same-sex domestic partners and their dependent children.
“I have a feeling members of the community will be excited about this,” said at-large councilwoman Monique Smith last week, noting that “public opinion shows support for all types of families.”
About a dozen in attendance at the council meeting erupted in applause when the measure was approved last Monday.
Smith worked with Mayor Michael Summers to approve the changes. The city had — over time — amended its policies, ordinances and collective bargaining agreements to “root out discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identification.”
“We’re not doing anything unique or unusual with these changes,” Smith said.
The policies include health and prescription coverage, FMLA and sick leave usage, and funeral leave.
“I think people are more accepting today,” Skindell said. “The people that don’t understand the issues and have a certain set of beliefs and stand strong… those people tend to be a little bit more vocal.”
“I think the community understands the issues stronger now, and are a little more accepting.”