Luzerne County, PA Establishes Mandatory Domestic Partner Registry for Employees

This bit from Think Progress struck me as odd.

County in northeast Pennsylvania has instituted a new policy requiring the same-sex domestic partners of county employees to identify themselves, even though they will still not be permitted to collect benefits. The reason for the policy is to ensure that anti-nepotism prohibitions and restrictions are applied to domestic partners.

What? I confirmed this with Equality PA – the County has established a registry for employees to document their domestic partnerships.  Luzerne County also has a non-discrimination ordinance in place which includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

It is important to note that this registry does not apply to heterosexual employees in domestic partnerships. It is also unclear how exactly the County tracks married employees if they don’t enroll in the health plan.

The ACLU noticed this, too.

“I am not assuming the intent is bad, but the way it is being implemented doesn’t make any sense,” said Mary Catherine Roper, an ACLU attorney from Philadelphia. “If the purpose is to prevent nepotism and conflicts of interest, then the government has an interest in this disclosure. There is a balance against the privacy interest.”

But the county should define domestic partners “in an even-handed manner” for both gay and heterosexual employees, Roper said.

I assume the intent is bad. The first thing that came to mind was mandatory registration under Hitler. It did. I could not see a single constructive benefit to this decision with the possible exception of some back door attempt to add domestic partner benefits.

Like this …

John Dawe, executive director of the gay-rights group NEPA Rainbow Alliance in Wilkes-Barre, applauded council for recognizing same-sex partners in the new code.

“We now ask that county council adopt an ordinance to allow county employees, at their own expense, to add their domestic partners to their health insurance,” Dawe said. “After all, recognizing equal treatment for all isn’t only solid policy, it’s the right thing to do.”

Hmmm. I certainly agree that domestic partner benefits – beyond health insurance – are the right thing for everyone. I just fail to see how compelling employees to out themselves to avoid nepotism is effective or reasonable? How much gay nepotism could there be in Luzerne County?

Luzerne County in pink

Sometimes being optimistic requires a bit more information. I can’t imagine registering as a same sex household with the County solely to comply with nepotism policies. Where’s the incentive to offset the potential discrimination and harassment you might experience?

And frankly – how it can even be nepotism if the County doesn’t recognize domestic partnerships? I hear this come up quite often when it comes to public assistance programs, like SNAP formerly known as food stamps. The federal government funds SNAP and they do not recognize same sex couples so why should a partner’s income be considered when it comes to a federal program? Often it is not because SNAP considers domestic partners to be roommates with individualized expenses. That’s fine with me.

I’m very skeptical that a “registry” for LGBTQ employees is a good or useful idea. However, if someone wants to persuade me that this will be a benefit to Luzerne County employees and LGBTQ residents, I’m open to the dialogue.

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