Pittsburgh City Councilman Bruce Kraus believes Pittsburgh has a track record of being progressive when it comes gay rights, and he is about to put his theory to the test.
Council is set to debate legislation Wednesday that would force all companies doing $250,000 or more worth of business with the city to offer same-sex benefits to its employees.
“In this day and age I just think it’s extremely important for a city like Pittsburgh … to roll out the welcome mat,” said Kraus, who believes the ordinance would send a clear message that the city is open-minded and believes in equality.
In 1989 Pittsburgh added gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals to the list of classes that cannot be discriminated against in employment and housing. About five years later, council members added gender identity and expression as a protected class. The city also currently offers employee benefits to domestic partners.
Krauss has been working on this legislation for more than a year. He believes it will stand up to any legal challenges, but it's unclear if he has the votes he needs to pass the bill.
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has said he is supportive of the legislation and believes it is the right thing to do, but he will have to review the specific legislation before committing his signature.
“I wanted to make a public statement that, that’s what Pittsburgh stands for," Kraus said. "And not only do we stand for it but we encourage people that we do business (with) to stand for equality across the board as well."
Businesses would have a full year to comply with the requirement before being found in breach of contract. To qualify for the benefits a non-married, same-sex or opposite-sex partner, would have to sign and affidavit that they are not part of any other domestic relationship and have been in their current relationship for at least a year.
Those are the same requirements needed for a couple to be listed on the city’s domestic partner registry. Being on that list is not a requirement under this proposal, but Kraus said it would be helpful when approaching a city contractor for inclusion in their benefits program.
There are a few waivers in the bill. Contractors would not have to comply with the law if it would lead to the loss of federal or state grants or if the contractor is a religious institution and extending the benefits would undermine its belief system.
The bill will come up for debate and a preliminary vote Wednesday. It could receive a final vote next Tuesday.