Below, you can read the testimony from Equality MD Executive Director Morgan Meneses-Sheets:
My name is Morgan Meneses-Sheets. I am the Executive Director of Equality Maryland. Equality Maryland seeks to end discrimination against lesbian, gay bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in our lives as residents of Maryland, citizens of the United States, and neighbors in towns and cities across this great state. I am here today to testify in support of Bill # 37-09, the “Equal Benefits Bill”.I look forward to seeing this critical civil rights bill successfully approved by the full County Council.
All across the country, gay and lesbian employees face discrimination in workplace benefits because they are unable to obtain a civil marriage license. Receiving equal pay for equal work remains an important aspect to achieving full equality for LGBT Marylanders.
I want to thank Councilmember Nancy Navarro for sponsoring this important bill. This legislation is simple. If companies and contractors do business with the county and provide benefits to married couples and families, they must provide the same benefits to same-sex domestic partners.
Montgomery County has continually been a leader in advancing fairness for all residents. This legislation continues that precedent by ensuring equal protection under the law and valuing equally the contributions and participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual individuals who do business with this county. This bill recognizes that differential treatment of specific groups hinders the county’s capacity to attract and retain a diverse body of highly-qualified individuals and therefore undermines its ability to do business.
If we want our economy to flourish – if we want to help attract and retain talented workers – then we must do all we can to make sure that workers have access to equal benefits. This is about decency, but it is also about maintaining a competitive workforce where people are evaluated and compensated based on performance and qualifications, not their sexual orientation.
Evidence suggests that employers with such policies enjoy a heightened reputation for respecting diversity. Without domestic partner benefits, a significant portion of overall employee compensation is unattainable for gay and lesbian workers. This bill will help provide equitable access to contractors in a range of areas including sick leave, health benefits, disability and life insurance and retirement benefits.
This is about real people’s lives. LGBT individuals struggling in today’s economy who need equal access to health care, but who are currently prevented from accessing their partner’s benefit plan. LGBT parents who are prevented from utilizing family medical leave because the law does not acknowledge their relationships. This is about the dramatic situation of the death of a loved one and the need to access bereavement leave, but it is also about the day to day of LGBT people being able to live their lives without worrying about whether or not whether they will be treated equally as employees or contractors simply because of who they are.
Opponents will often discuss the cost of providing benefits to domestic partners. It seems absurd to talk about economics when what we are really looking at are civil rights and equal protections. But it is important to note that in the studies that have been done the cost to most employers has been negligible. Coverage for domestic partners increases the number of insured individuals enrolled in the health insurance plan, but that coverage is no more expensive than for other individuals and enrollment overall is far lower than most estimates.
A 2005 Hewitt Associates study found that the majority of employers — 64 percent — experience a total financial impact of less than 1 percent of total benefits cost, 88 percent experience financial impacts of 2 percent or less and only 5 percent experience financial impacts of 3 percent or greater of total benefits cost.
Studies have also shown that domestic partner benefits programs improve employees' productivity and retention rate by alleviating personal stress that may keep workers from fully focusing on work, and by providing an inexpensive enhancement to an overall compensation package.
Today your colleagues on the DC City Council voted 11-2 in favor of marriage equality. The momentum is building, but many residents continue to await action on the issue of marriage equality at the state level. Montgomery County should do as much as it can to encourage progress at the local level. This bill would send a strong statement that Montgomery County believes in equal protections for all couples.
We all know that any advancement towards equality will be met with intolerance and prejudice by those who seek to intimidate and condemn our community. Equality Maryland applauds the Montgomery County Council’s commitment to fairness and continuing efforts to change exclusionary policies. Each incremental change that we make builds the momentum behind the movement to advance full marriage equality. We thank you for being such strong champions of equality.