I am so very relieved. I just got off the phone with the Personnel Department of the City of Pittsburgh. They confirmed for me that after a review, the City has decided to maintain its existing policy with regard to domestic partner benefits. No one will lose coverage if they remain unmarried. New employees can still access the benefits.
As it stands, same-sex and opposite-sex employees can access the full array of family benefits including health insurance. The only distinction is that all unmarried couples will continue to face a tax penalty as the benefits will be considered additional income for the employed partner rather than the pre-tax benefit married couples (all married couples, now) can enjoy. Now that we have access to state and federally recognized marriages, the tax penalty is something we knowingly accept. For us, it comes out to an additional $1,000 per year in taxes. That’s still a better option than losing insurance coverage.
In July, Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that domestic partner benefits would be immediately eliminated given the court decision legalizing same-sex marriages in Pennsylvania. After an outcry, he backed off that decision and instead discontinued new domestic partnerships, allowing existing partners up until June 30, 2015 to marry. Unions representing County employees, including the SEIU, were challenging that decision. No word on any change in the County plans. I will personally continue to advocate in that regard.
This is the link to our petition where we’ve declared a victory, one that would not have been possible without your support and signatures.
So why declare victory? Our original ask was that any decision to terminate domestic partnerships be tied to the passage of statewide non-discrimination protections. The County did not meet that goal as it is nigh impossible that HB/SB 300 will pass by June 30, 2015. However, the City exceeded that goal by committing to keeping the benefits permanently. Hopefully, the County will see the wisdom of that decision and reverse course. With the unions involved, I feel more confident that the County will reconsider their decision before the deadline. Otherwise, they might lose some terrific employees to the City and other employers, right? Or even the State which still has domestic partner benefits as well.
As someone who was immediately impacted by this looming decision, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It has been quite agonizing waiting for this decision – we’ve put several other decisions on hold while we waited and it is lovely and comforting to get back to our normal life. My health insurance card never looked so beautiful.
The road to equality is rocky and filled with complicated codes, policies and regulations. We continue to need our allies to make informed decisions that recognize our lived realities as LGBTQ people, residents and employees. This only happens when we keep the dialogue open and transparent.
Thank you again for your role in making this happen.