A measure that would extend municipal employee and volunteer benefits to married same-sex couples has been unanimously approved by the Seattle city council. In many cases the three measures that were passed Monday by the nine-member panel, all proposed last month by Mayor Greg Nickels, largely reduce the paperwork for couples who have been entitled to benefits under domestic-partnership provisions since 1989. They no longer have to complete domestic-partnership forms to qualify. "These three bills recognize basic democratic principles that the council and the mayor agree on, that all people are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," said council member Nick Licata, a cosponsor of the legislation. "It is a historic step that the city has long been overdue in taking."
The council action was criticized as "another step in tearing down and redefining marriage" by Randall Leskovar, pastor of Calvary Chapel in West Seattle, who sued Nickels three days after he issued his executive order last month. Same-sex marriages are prohibited under a Washington State law, which six
same-sex couples are challenging in a lawsuit. The municipal legislation involves same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. "What we can do at our level is offer people who are married the same rights and protections everyone else has," said the other cosponsor, council member Tom Rasmussen, who is gay. "That's why we are recognizing legal marriages that have occurred in other communities."
Under the legislation, "marriage evidences the type of committed relationship the city wants to encourage and nurture among its employees, thereby increasing employee morale and efficiency." The legislation includes provisions for the transfer of a business license belonging to one spouse to the other if one dies; the legal defense for same-sex spouses of city volunteers; and the extension of municipal employee benefits--including bereavement and family and medical leave--to all legally married couples.