New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Wednesday that he will direct his appointees on the city's pension fund boards to treat city employees with same-sex spouses the same way as those with opposite-sex spouses. Bloomberg's decision, based on a legal opinion by the city law department, makes no immediate changes. It is unclear how many people would be affected.
If the idea is approved by the city's five pension fund boards, city employees with same-sex spouses, whether by marriage or civil union, would receive pension benefits--including, for instance, accidental death benefits. The mayor does not have a majority of appointees on any of the boards, which cover pension plans for police, teachers, and other city employees.
Those eligible would include people in same-sex marriages and civil unions that have been recently sanctioned in Massachusetts, Vermont, and several Canadian provinces, among other places. New York State, however, does not officially recognize gay marriage, and state law prohibits pension benefits from being awarded to couples in city-sanctioned domestic partnerships.
State attorney general Eliot Spitzer has ruled that though same-sex marriages could not be legally performed in New York, the state must recognize those performed legally elsewhere. The state does allow employees to make same-sex partners their pension beneficiaries. A decision by state comptroller Alan Hevesi in October allowed married gay couples to receive automatic cost-of-living increases and accidental death benefits for survivors.
Bloomberg said Wednesday that he supports a change in state law that would allow couples in domestic partnerships to be eligible for pension benefits. "All our city employees deserve to be treated equally, regardless of their sexual orientation, and I hope these measures will ensure that they are," he
said in a statement.
Bloomberg has said that he goes "back and forth" on whether same-sex marriages should be allowed but that he believes that civil unions for same-sex couples should confer the same legal rights as marriage. It was not immediately clear when the pension boards--which are also composed of representatives of city unions--would take up the issue.