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DeKalb approves giving benefits to domestic partners
Will Anderson - Staff
       DeKalb County will offer health and life insurance to the partners of gay employees and unmarried couples under a plan adopted Thursday by the board of commissioners.
       Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the domestic partner benefits, making DeKalb the first county in Georgia to offer the package to its employees. The benefits apply to health, dental, life and vision insurance.
       The vote came with little fanfare, and there was no discussion among commissioners, except over a minor procedural issue that had nothing to do with the benefits.
       Harry Knox, director of the gay rights Georgia Equality Project, praised the move as a step in the right direction. He said it's a matter of equal pay for equal work. "It's just the way gay folks ought to be treated and the way policy ought to be made," said Knox, whose group helped draft the DeKalb plan.
       Atlanta is the only other local government in Georgia that offers domestic partner benefits, made possible after a six-year legal battle. The East Point City Council is considering a similar plan and could vote on it in May.
       The private sector has been a little quicker to offer domestic partner benefits. Since June, four of Georgia's biggest employers have done so, including BellSouth, Delta, Atlanta Gas Light and Coca-Cola, Knox said.
       "What it's done for the morale of employees has been tremendous," Knox said. "It really shows that our employers care about us."
       Elaine Boyer, the sole Republican on the seven-member DeKalb board, said she voted against the insurance benefits because it was a campaign promise of DeKalb Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones, who took office Jan. 1. Boyer said she also didn't like how employees would have to swear under oath that their relationship with their partner meets 14 requirements. Generally speaking, employees must swear that they have a committed, long-term relationship with their partners and are not married to someone else.
       "Would you want to subject yourself to answering those things in order to get benefits?" Boyer asked. "I wouldn't."
       DeKalb officials estimate about 1 percent of the county's 7,000 employees will apply for the benefits. If that is correct, it will cost a little less than $200,000 annually. The total the county pays for health and life insurance benefits for its employees is about $39 million.
       ON THE WEB: Georgia Equality Inc.: www.georgiaequality.org/