Originally published on Advocate.com November 18 2003 1:00 AM ET
Lexington, Ky., mayor Teresa Isaac has vetoed the city council's resolution that would have banned extending health insurance coverage to city employees' domestic partners, either same- or opposite-sex. In a one-sentence document on Friday, Isaac cited the city's 1999 Fairness Ordinance, which prohibits antigay discrimination in employment, as well as a Kentucky constitution section that forbids "absolute and arbitrary power." It is the second time in four months that Isaac has exercised the rarely used mayoral veto in connection with the benefits plan. Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon, who voted to keep the benefits, said, "It's a power struggle between two kids."
Council members could now override the veto, change the resolution so it has more sticking power, or alter language in the city's law books to make it clear that the council has authority over health insurance matters, said Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. Farmer and others were puzzled that the mayor forged ahead with the benefits plan during the city's open enrollment period this month in spite of the council's protest. Isaac has said that the resolution that passed 8-4 last week lacked the power of an ordinance. "If we send a resolution to the mayor, asking her to do x, y and z, I would think...a resolution is all you'd need," Farmer said. "When eight or more of us have an opinion, that can become a law."
Councilman Al Mitchell said, "I wish she wouldn't be so headstrong about it." Mitchell said he was confident that the council could serve up the required nine votes Tuesday to override Isaac's veto.
This week council members asked law commissioner David Holmes to draft answers to their legal questions on the issue, but they have also considered hiring their own counsel. Isaac's belief that she is obliged to offer domestic-partner benefits could be up for interpretation. Months ago, a city lawyer told the council that the Fairness Ordinance did not imply that such benefits were required.
Domestic-partner benefits apply to same- and opposite-sex couples who have lived together for at least a year and are in a committed relationship. As of last week, nine employees signed their partners up for coverage. The debate, closely watched by gay rights groups and conservative organizations, has shifted from health insurance to the definition of marriage and to the highly publicized squabble between the mayor and the council.