Robey pondering benefits for same-sex partners

`We're exploring the cost,' he says

aide Sanudo sees possible snags

Howard County

October 10, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

One gay Howard County employee has asked for benefits for a life partner, and County Executive James N. Robey said he is "interested" in providing them, though he missed a candidates forum on the subject this week.

"It's something I said a couple years ago I'm interested in, but we're exploring the cost and the mechanics of making it work," Robey said yesterday as he prepared to speak at the county government's third Diversity Day celebration for employees in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Despite that, Raquel Sanudo, county administrative officer, said no cost estimate for providing the benefit exists. One would be hard to do, she said, because there is no county-accepted legal definition of a same-sex couple who could qualify for benefits, nor is there a bid for contractors to respond to.

"There's no big push to do it," Sanudo said.

That may change after the issue was raised at a forum sponsored by Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) at Owen Brown Interfaith Center in Columbia on Tuesday night. Republican county executive candidate Steven H. Adler said that, if elected, he "would support benefits for same-sex partners."

And Colette Roberts, PFLAG's co-founder, said her group will now push for the benefits. She said that since many gay people "are not `out' or in long-term relationships, I have a feeling it's not a whole lot of money." Her group, too, would do research on the question, she said.

Robey missed the forum, at which 16 other candidates appeared, because he was representing the county at a 40th-anniversary season kickoff celebration at Center Stage in Baltimore, where a production of Peter Pan was performed. Sang Oh, one of his top aides, represented him at the forum.

Attendance at forums "is a judgment call," he said, as he balances his dual role as county executive and candidate for re-election.

"I think my record speaks for itself . Colette knows I've attended several of their meetings and been very supportive of them."

"I was disappointed" Robey didn't appear, Roberts said. "It would have been nice to have him there to speak to the issue. Our chapter [of PFLAG] will definitely pursue it [benefits]."

Howard's school board does not offer the benefits to employees, either, although Montgomery County government does.

If Montgomery County's experience is a model, Roberts' feeling about the cost may be right.

According to Eric Wallmark, employee benefits manager for Montgomery, only 70 of the county's 27,000 general government workers have domestic partners getting benefits - and some of those are heterosexual people living with someone to whom they are not married.

"That's less than three-tenths of 1 percent," he said, explaining that after the county extended same-sex benefits to workers in March, 2000, county police and fire unions bargained for the same benefits for single heterosexual people in long-term, live-in relationships.

That same percentage applied to Howard's 2,000 nonschool workers would mean six employees' partners would get benefits.

In Montgomery County, domestic partnership is established if workers are 18 or older, living in the same place together for at least a year, share a close personal, voluntary and caring relationship, are not related in a way that would disqualify them from marriage under other circumstances, and if they share "sufficient financial and legal obligations."

Those obligations include either a signed, notarized Affidavit for Domestic Partnership, and a joint housing lease or mortgage, joint ownership of a vehicle, a joint checking or credit account, designation of the partner as beneficiary of insurance and retirement benefits, or designation in a will, and designation of the partner for power of attorney in health care decisions for the employee.

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