Bloomberg Stiffs Gay Couples

Mayor’s veto of Equal Benefits Bill sparks boycott of Gracie Mansion Pride event

Mayor Michael Bloomberg made good June 3 on his promise to veto the City Council’s Equal Benefits Bill that would require city contractors to provide domestic partner benefits if they provide spousal benefits. But, in doing so, the mayor broke a promise he had made during his run for mayor to support the bill.

His reversal is prompting some prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender leaders to boycott his June 23 gay pride celebration at Gracie Mansion.

The Council passed the bill May 5 by a 45-5 margin, far more than the two-thirds necessary to override Bloomberg. In bucking such a majority, the mayor may find it difficult to recover his political standing in the LGBT community.

“This veto is hypocrisy at its worst,” said Councilmember Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea), the lead sponsor of the bill. “His veto message says he doesn’t support contractors bills, but he has in the case of the Living Wage Bill. His veto is useless. We will override.”

Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, said that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the votes for override will be there when it comes before the Council within 30 days of Bloomberg’s veto. No date had been set as of press time.

“We did a good enough job with the coalition on the bill to prepare for a veto,” Van Capelle said, making clear that the group is not worried about having enough votes to override. “We are working the phones and we’re fine.

Despite his confidence, Van Capelle encouraged supporters in the community to call their councilmembers, thank them for their yes votes, and urge an override.

Van Capelle said that the Pride Agenda would not take part in Bloomberg’s June 23 pride celebration.

“If [Bloomberg] wanted to honor the lesbian and gay community, he would be signing this bill,” he said. “It is hypocritical for him to host a celebration supporting the gay community.”

Veteran AIDS activist John Wright said, “It is disgraceful that Bloomberg is courting the gay community for votes but is not willing to say that equal benefits should be extended. The shame is that some gay and lesbian leaders are thinking of going to his event.”

Gina Quattrochi, executive director of Bailey House, an AIDS residence, who has tangled with Bloomberg on AIDS policy, was not invited to the pride event.

“It is a travesty that the mayor would veto the bill in this age when the issue of civil rights for gay and lesbian families is so out there,” she said. It sends a message that gay and lesbian families are not worthy of the benefits that other families receive.”

Inga Sorensen, director of comunication for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, said, “We’re consulting with other groups who are talking about the idea of a boycott, but we haven’t made any decision about any of this yet.”

Connie Ress, director of Marriage Equality/USA, was not invited to the Bloomberg gay party, but said, “Why would I want to go if he is not going to support our right to marry? The Equal Benefits Billis another step toward protecting people in the City of New York. He says he’ll do whatver he can for us, but he doesn’t. Why have a pride event? What is he proud of?”

Bloomberg issued his veto in a June 3 letter to Victor Robles, the clerk of the City Council. The mayor’s letter says that he “personally” supports domestic partner benefits and “I encourage all companies” to provide them, but, “I also believe that our Administration has a responsibility to uphold the law and to protect the long-term fiscal health of the City.”

The mayor insists that the law is an illegal misuse of the procurement process and a curtailment of his powers under the City Charter, contentions that lawyers for the City Council have repeatedly disputed.

In his veto message, Bloomberg said, “The bill provides an unfortunate incentive for New York City businesses to relocate outside the City and bid for City business from their new locations, thereby costing the City jobs and tax revenues.”

But this has not been the experience of San Francisco, which passed its equal benefits law in 1997. Contractors with San Francisco not only covered their employees who worked on the contracts, but often extended domestic partner benefits to their employees nationally. The Human Rights Campaign estimates that 80 percent of the corporate domestic partner benefits available in the nation are attributable to the San Francisco law, which has withstood several legal challenges.

The Bloomberg administration testified against the Equal Benefits Bill last year, but its representatives were unable to answer any of the Council’s questions about their legal argument. The administration refused to send representatives to the hearings on the bill before the Contracts Committee this year. And Bloomberg’s Law Department pointedly refused to answer any press questions about their legal concerns, leading many to conclude the mayor will go to court to challenge this law after the override.

If Bloomberg himself does not mount the legal challenge to the new law, that may come from a group like Catholic Charities of New York which opposed the bill—even though the Archdiocese of San Francisco managed to comply with the law there. The Salvation Army gave up its contracts in San Francisco rather than comply and is expected to forgo millions in contracts here, unless they sue over the matter first.

Quinn was able to neutralize the opposition of another conservative religious contractor, Agudath Israel. While that Orthodox Jewish provider did not support the legislation, the group worked out a clause that allows religious contractors to comply—as they do in San Francisco—by letting employees of religious groups name one other person on their benefit policies, rather than only a domestic partner.

“This bill is about ending the use of taxpayer dollars to fund discrimination by some city contractors against one set of New York families,” Van Capelle said. “The mayor broke a promise he made to our families.”

Brendan Fay hosted Bloomberg at his inclusive St. Patrick’s parade in Queens in March.

He said he was committed to our equality, but that his “hands were tied on the marriage issue because of Albany. But here he is using his position to block our access to the most basic benefits that are nowhere near equal rights. He is quite hypocritical.”

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