San Francisco supervisors OK domestic-partner rule Health benefits equalized with married couples' plan


SAN FRANCISCO -- Pressing a new case for the equal treatment of same-sex couples, San Francisco is moving to become the first major city in the country to require the companies with which it does business to offer health and other benefits to the unmarried partners of their employees.

The city's board of supervisors passed legislation by a 10-0 vote Monday to prohibit the city government from contracting with companies that do not make the same benefits available to employees' domestic partners that they do to the married spouses of their workers. The measure will now go to the mayor, Willie L. Brown Jr., who has said he supports it in principle.

Domestic partnerships have been recorded by the City and County of San Francisco since 1991. But with 3,554 of them registered, officials said the proposed law would probably affect only a small number of people.

"I think it's actually going to be very nominal in terms of its impact on businesses," said one of the two gay supervisors who introduced the legislation, Leslie R. Katz. "But we're sending a message. Hopefully we will encourage companies to take a look at discrimination that they haven't even looked at yet."

That message received a mixed response from the city's business community.

Following the lead of the municipal government, some of the largest companies based in San Francisco, including The Gap and Levi Strauss & Co., have made health insurance, bereavement and medical leave and other benefits available to registered domestic partners for some time. While some of those companies applauded the bill, other local companies ranging from small hardware stores to big banks expressed concerns.

"Generally speaking, we think that it's not good public policy for the city to tie its hands in the way that this ordinance mandates," said a spokesman for Bank of America, Dennis Wyss. "Ultimately, this ordinance could disadvantage San Francisco taxpayers by making it harder or more costly for the city to obtain services. It could force the city to pay more or accept lower quality services."

Neither Wyss, whose company employs almost 10,000 of its 93,000 workers in San Francisco, nor the representatives of several other local companies that publicly raised concerns about the legislation said outright that their companies would fight the bill.

But some large companies, including Bank of America, have refused to extend health benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees after long and sometimes bitter debates within their ranks.

WIDOW WARNING Aides to Brown stopped short of promising that he would sign the measure, saying he would have to study it. But Katz is a mayoral appointee, and she and the other supervisors generally work under Brown's tight supervision.

The measure also appeared to enjoy broad public support in a city where gay men and lesbians are more politically organized and active than any other in the country.

Pub Date: 11/06/96

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