Equality under the law will be a double edged sword for employees of the Orange County local government in the state of Florida come 2017 after county commissioners voted to repeal domestic partner benefits for people in unmarried same-sex relationships.
In most parts of the United States only married relationships are given any legal weight, but prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage many progressive cities and counties introduced schemes to allow gay and lesbian partners of government employees equal access to benefits.
Now eleven Orange County employees are facing the prospect of a shotgun wedding if they want their partners to keep their benefits past 1 January, 2017.
LGBTI rights group Equality Florida said Orange County was taking a backwards step in removing partnership benefits for unwed married couples when it should instead be extending them to heterosexual couples.
‘There is absolutely no reason to take away their benefits,’ Equality Florida deputy director Stratton Pollitzer said in a statement.
‘Some couples do not marry for both personal and practical reasons, but these families are just as deserving of health insurance and other protections. It’s only fair that two employees doing the same job receive the same benefits for their families.
‘The county should be expanding its domestic partner benefits to include both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, as the vast majority of Florida municipalities [do]. In fact more than two-thirds of registered domestic partners are opposite-sex couples.’
Equality Florida noted that more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partnership benefits to their employees and that studies had shown providing equal benefits for unmarried couples came at very low cost to employers.
‘By repealing these benefits, Orange County has put itself at a competitive disadvantage in employee recruitment and retention,’ Pollitzer said.
‘Just last week, Broward County expanded its benefits. Hillsborough, Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Alachua, Leon, and Monroe counties and many Florida cities provide domestic partner benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.’
Orange County is home to some of America’s most popular resorts and theme parks – most famously Walt Disney World.