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OUR VIEW: City's gay employees earn less (vote in poll)

July 16, 2010
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This weekend is the 20th annual PrideFest downtown. The event celebrates freedom for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

As usual, PrideFest will go forward without the formal blessing of a proclamation from Mayor Lionel Rivera. Once again, who cares? Individuals do not need the approval of City Hall and the city’s top elected official to lead their own peaceful lives and celebrate their lifestyles. And no elected official should feel obligated to bless the celebration of a cause he or she doesn’t support.

A more important concern this weekend should be the fact some city employees in Colorado Springs aren’t really free. They’re free to celebrate and promote controversial ideas, with or without the mayor’s stamp of approval, but they aren’t free to spend their earned compensation as they choose.

City employees earn part of their compensation in cash and part in benefits, such as health insurance and vacation. Nobody dares tell them how to spend their take-home cash, because it belongs to them. It can be spent on liquor, guns or donations to preachers. Nobody dares tell them how to spend their vacation time, which can be used for time on a beach or on a “staycation” at home in front of TV.

Yet for some odd reason, earned health insurance benefits are treated differently. Employees are told how they can spend them, even though they pay for them with the work they provide. Health insurance is wrongly viewed as a gift from the employer. A city employee has the ability to spend benefits of a health insurance policy on self, a spouse and dependent children. That’s as it should be. Not all members of a family are able to earn wages and benefits, so workers must be able to extend benefits to dependents.

But someone who isn’t lawfully wed is allowed to spend proceeds of earned health insurance only on his or her self and dependent children. The person may not extend the benefits to one other adult, as a married person may at minimal additional cost. The person may not decide to choose a sibling, a friend, a parent or a same-sex partner as a designated beneficiary of the policy. That means the person earns less than someone who is married for doing the same amount of work.

It is wonderful that City Hall and society hold traditional marriage in high esteem. Traditional marriages are the best and most abundant source of children, and without adequate reproduction our culture and our economy are doomed.

(Please vote in poll to the right in red type. Must vote to see results. Thanks!)

But it doesn’t punish traditional families, or diminish the stature of traditional marriages, to compensate employees in different circumstances equally for equal amounts of work. In general, a married accountant produces the same value for an employer as one who’s single or in a nontraditional relationship. Therefore, the value of the employee’s earned health insurance benefits should be the same.

In this great free country, we have the right to feel however we choose about the way people live and we have the right to express those feelings. But we also have the expectation of fair compensation, especially when an employer is funded by taxes. Government employees who earn health insurance should be allowed to extend them to dependent children and one adult of their choosing. That’s a cause PrideFest supporters should promote with fervor.

Wayne Laugesen , editorial page editor, for the editorial board. Friend him on Facebook

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