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Budget vote ushers in DP benefits for city employees
QSanAntonio.com, September 15, 2011

After much public input, the San Antonio City Council passed a new $2.2 billion budget on September 15 that includes domestic partnership benefits for city employees. The vote was 8 for and 3 against.

District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan and Councilmen Carlton Soules of District 10 and David Medina of District 5 constituted the "no" votes.

The vote came after nearly three hours of comments by local citizens. Those against the initiative nearly monopolized the Citizens to Be Heard portion of the meeting with mostly religious and moral objections.

Some of the Christian protestors carried signs. Many came with children.

The council chambers were filled with Christian protestors including some with babies and school-age children. Some held signs that read "Vote for Marriage (I do!). "

Sometimes the rhetoric got rough. Some speakers threatened political retribution to council members who voted to keep the measure in the budget. Mike Knupke of the San Antonio Family Association said the question of domestic partnership benefits had "awakened the sleeping Christian giant."

Former Christian radio talk show host Adam McManus went to the podium with his infant son and pregnant wife to say that he did not support giving benefits to "the live-in lovers" of city employees gay or straight.

Pastor Gerald Ripley, the main organizer of the protests, displayed a picture of his infant grandchild who has only two teeth, saying his grandson had a better bite because the DP initiative was a toothless idea that was fraught with potential for fraud.

One man, Joe Desega, said that he had been in jail 25 times before he found religion. He said he once ministered to "ex-homosexuals" who were dying from AIDS and who, at the time of their deaths, cried out to God for forgiveness.

City Council gadfly and self-proclaimed homophobe Jack Finger and in photo right with Edmundo Vargas of the right-wing Catholic group The Defenders of the Magesterium.

While most of the Christian protestors spoke specifically about the DP partner line item, others also protested funding for the San Pedro Playhouse because of their production of "Corpus Christi," and against allowing tax dollars to be used for contraception.

On the same morning as the vote, Archbishop of San Antonio Gustavo Garcia Siller issued a statement:

"As the shepherd and archbishop of the Catholic Church in San Antonio, I have observed with interest the public debate that is taking place in our city regarding a recent proposal to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees.

The Catholic Church recognizes as a fundamental human right that all persons have the opportunity to secure adequate health care. I am concerned, nonetheless, by the manner in which the city is proposing to provide health care by giving legal recognition to a new structure that may ultimately result in the undermining of marriage and the weakening of the family unit that is essential to the good of society. "

Gay activists chose to feature only one main speaker, attorney Eduardo Juarez, co-chair of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, who came to the podium accompanied by a over a dozen community members including Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas.

The GLBT group presented the City Council with a large plexiglass boxed filled with almost 3000 signed cards asking the mayor and council members to support the DP initiative. Former City Councilwoman Elena Guajardo held a large blow-up of one of the yellow cards.

After all the comments from citizens had been heard, Councilwoman Chan made a motion to have the domestic partner initiative pulled out as an item to be voted on separately. Each council member then offered their perspective on the issue.

Most of those on the council who were in favor of the benefits said that it was the fair and right thing to do for city employees. Councilman Rey Saldana of District 4 said he would always side with equality.

Chan's main objections were financial. She feared that the cost estimates would be more than anticipated and questioned the verification process by which couples would qualify for the benefits. Councilman David Medina cited economic factors as well community opposition as the basis for rejecting the proposal.

In endorsing the initiative, Mayor Julian Castro cited the many corporations and cities that offer similar benefits and said, "This is not a new issue -- this should have be done some time ago."

Chan's breakout motion was voted down by a margin of 7 to 4 clearing the way for the 8 to 3 vote that approved the final budget.

Just minutes after the vote, Equality Texas sent out an e-mail news blast that summed up the day's results.

"Today's vote is an affirmation of the City Council's belief that all San Antonians should be treated equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve. There was opposition. And, there will likely be negative backlash. As we move forward, let us remember that fairness and justice will always be in the best interests of our diverse communities."

Ire over partner benefits overshadows city budget OK
San Antonio Express-News, September 16, 2011
The City Council adopted a budget that keeps the property tax rate steady and invests in Mayor Julián Castro's long-range plan, SA2020. But council members Elisa Chan, Carlton Soules and David Medina dissented, breaking a years-long trend of unanimous budget approvals, because the budget included domestic-partner benefits.

City Council Approves 2012 Budget
KSAT-TV, September 16, 2011
By an 8-3 vote, the San Antonio City Council approved a balanced budget for fiscal year 2012 that includes benefits for domestic partners of city employees. The controversial item proved to be a sticking point during budget talks, and several people spoke in favor and against the benefits proposal before the council's vote.

Benefits for domestic partners included in 2012 city budget
KENS-TV, September 16, 2011
The San Antonio city council approved a $2.2 billion budget that includes benefits to domestic partners of city employees. It's a small slice of the pie, yet council spent four hours discussing the issue at Thursday's meeting.

San Antonio passes domestic partner benefits
San Antonio Current, September 16, 2011
Our circus of a budget season, marred with debate over everything from sidewalks to sodomy, is finally over. With an 8-3 vote Thursday, the City of San Antonio churned out a budget granting domestic partner benefits to gay and straight city employees, capping countless the hours of intense, fiery debate that roiled nearly every community budget hearing over the past month.

Council newcomers recast debate over domestic partner benefits
By Scott Stroud, San Antonio Express-News, September 16, 2011
About halfway through Thursday's marathon throw-down on whether the city of San Antonio should extend benefits to domestic partners, including gays and lesbians, I lost track of all the statements I found offensive. It wasn't until City Council members got their turn to speak that I realized this wasn't about who was offended, or by whom.

A matter of workplace fairness
By Richard Farias, San Antonio Express-News, September 12, 2011
Domestic partner benefits account for approximately 0.014 percent of the city budget, yet they have drawn enough discussion to make one wonder: What is the big deal? The answer: It is about workforce parity and economic competitiveness.

Commentary: The Catholic response on DP benefits
By Sam Sanchez, QSanAntonio.com, September 10, 2011

In an August 30 article in the San Antonio Express-News about religious groups opposing domestic partner benefits for city employees, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Antonio said they were "reviewing the policy before weighing in."

On Monday of this week the executive director of an archdiocesan charity stepped into the fray with an opinion piece in the Express-News that harshly criticizes the initiative. (See related link below.)

The editorial by Mary Ann Parks, titled "Same-sex partner benefits betray civic, fiduciary trust," starts by saying, "City Manager Sheryl Sculley calls herself an agent of change. That is not her job, but she is using her budget to do it."

Parks goes on to list several reasons, some of which have already been refuted in the press, as to why the domestic partner proposal is a bad idea including that it's "an insult to 6,000 years of law codes, prevailing social traditions and the religious beliefs and moral code of most residents of San Antonio."

Parks runs Project Rachel, a non-profit that offers post-abortion counseling and operates under the auspices of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Given that she is already on his payroll, one can assume that Parks had Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller's blessing to speak out against domestic partnership benefits.

This is not the first time the new archbishop has deferred to a proxy when dealing with gay issues.

In October of last year, Garcia-Siller let Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantu do the dirty work of expelling Dignity S.A. from their weekly mass at St. Ann's Catholic Church just days prior to his arrival in San Antonio to assume his new post.

When the furor over the play "Corpus Christi" erupted this summer, Bishop Cantu once again served as the Archdiocese's spokesman saying that "Art must not only imitate life, it must elevate it. 'Corpus Christi' is just vulgar."

For many in our community it was disheartening to read an opinion piece so filled with obvious disdain for gay people. "It is one thing to tolerate or countenance the practice of homosexuality; it is quite another to give it tax support," wrote Parks.

"Traditional morality" may not be provincial as Parks writes in her op-ed, but intolerance, homophobia and religious extremism are factors that can dissuade people and companies from wanting to live and do business in San Antonio.

Offering domestic partner benefits signals to prospective employees, gay or straight, that San Antonio is a welcoming city and not a place where "prevailing social traditions" make it OK to deny equal rights to citizens who don't pass muster with the archbishop or the religious right.

Same-sex partner benefits betray civic, fiduciary trust
By Mary Ann Parks, San Antonio Express-News, September 4, 2011
City Manager Sheryl Sculley calls herself an agent of social change. That is not her job, but she is using the budget to do it. Her budget proposes insurance benefits for same-sex domestic partners. The plan is bad on several counts.

Religious extremists preach against DP benefits at City Council meeting
QSanAntonio, September 1, 2011

In the hours leading up to the City Council's budget meeting on August 31, Pastor Gerald Ripley, the man who's spearheading the campaign against domestic partnership benefits for city employees, posted on his web site that "Demonic forces are converging over S.A. for the purpose of establishing immorality as a right at the government level."

The meeting, which was held in City Council Chambers, was convened expressly to discuss items from the city budget which awaits a Council vote on September 15.

Even though a few of the citizens who spoke addressed other topics, by and large the majority of those who came to the podium were there to discuss domestic partner benefits.

While Pastor Ripley's rhetoric did not reach the same level when he actually addressed the Council, some of his followers took a cue from his internet posting.

One speaker said that that the "evil" of homosexuality was "eating us up." Another, a woman holding a sign advocating heterosexual marriage, said that San Antonio would be under the "dark cloud of Satan" if domestic partnerships were granted.

Another man said that he used to work at a psychiatric hospital where there was a ward just for homosexuals and that giving these people DP benefits was immoral. One speaker admonished the City Council not to do the "politically correct thing but the morally correct thing."

Speaking for DP benefits: Richard Farias, Randy Bear, Chris Forbrich, Lauryn Farris.

Activists from the GLBT community, the majority of whom got to speak early in the meeting, stayed on message. That message was that offering these benefits made the city more competitive in hiring and retaining of top talent, and that no employee should be treated like a second-class citizen.

Speaking for DP benefits: Executive Director of Equality Texas Dennis Coleman, John Dean Domingue, Julia De Grace, David Plylar.

One at time, each of the GLBT speakers made their case in addressing and debunking their foes' other objections: Cost (less than one percent of the total budget); abuse of the program (two forms documentation will be required); and extending domestic partnership benefits was not an endorsement of gay marriage as some of the religious extremists have suggested.

"Finally, offering these benefits is the right thing to do for the hundreds of city employees who serve us daily," activist Randy Bear told the Council. "For those city employees who could benefit by this, it’s the right thing to do to be able to look them in the eye and tell them we value them as much as their fellow employees."

GLBT activist Dee Villarubia with City Manager Sheryl Sculley. Rabbi Barry H.D. Block from Temple Beth-El.

One religious leader who spoke in favor of granting the benefits was Rabbi Barry H.D. Block from Temple Beth-El who came armed with a letter signed by over 30 religious leaders.

"All of the undersigned are deeply committed to the sanctity of marriage. We are equally aware that not all members of our society have equal access to state-sanctioned marriage. Like the sanctity of marriage, equal rights and equal opportunity for all human beings and all loving couples are values we all hold dear," read the text of the letter.

Pastor Ripley, who admonished the QSanAntonio reporter for trying to take his photograph, came to the podium and began by saying, "It's been implied that two percent of our citizens are treated like second class citizens. When homosexuals go to the Spurs' game they can sit on any seat on the bus. They can drink from the same water fountains. They can go into any restaurant or any theater. They can buy a house in any neighborhood. Therefore, I say to you, there are no second class citizens in our great city."

Ripley went on to say using the term "second class citizens" to curry political capital was unfortunate and beneath the dignity of those making the case. He also made the unsubstantiated claim that 70 percent of voters objected to offering the benefits.

What followed in Ripley's address came almost word-for-word from a fact sheet with 14 talking points that had been posted on his web site in the days leading up to the budget meetings.

Two controversial characters followed Pastor Ripley in speaking out to the City Council against DP benefits.

Former Christian radio talk show host Adam McManus (in dark suit) speaks with a fellow protestor. Pastor and Mrs. Charles Flowers both took the podium in opposition to the DP initiative.

The first was former talk show host Adam McManus who was fired for budgetary reasons last year from KSLR-AM, a local Christian radio station. During his time on-air, McManus encouraged his listeners to speak out in 2007 against Police Chief William McManus and in 2009 against Mayor Julian Castro because they served as Grand Marshal for the Gay Pride Parade. In 2006, McManus tried to start a boycott of H-E-B because the grocery chain had contributed $300 to PrideFest.

Also present was Pastor Charles Flowers of the Love Demonstrated Ministries who was arrested in 2007 for dragging a girl behind a van after she failed to keep up during a running exercise at his Christian boot camp near Corpus Christi. In 2006, Love Demonstrated Ministries reported private and government contributions totaling $314,673 to operate the boot camp, with nearly 89 percent of the costs, $278,549, going for salaries.

City to ask couples to prove commitment
San Antonio Express-News, August 31, 2011
The city is poised to begin offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners of employees, but before receiving the coverage, the couples will have to prove they're in committed relationships, according to a memo that City Manager Sheryl Sculley gave to council members Tuesday. The memo outlines a policy that would require that couples — both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partnerships — swear that they're in a “committed relationship” on a city affidavit.

Same sex partner benefits roil SA, but most Texas cities offer them
Q1019.com, August 31, 2011
As activists prepare to shout down a proposal to expand the city budget to provide insurance and other city benefits for the same-sex partners of San Antonio city employees, as well as employees of San Antonio owned utilities CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System, it turns out that San Antonio is well behind the curve. Several other large Texas cities have already brought same sex partners into the mix.

Activists seek community's help with DP benefits push
QSanAntonio.com, August 27, 2011

GLBT activists are fanning out across the city in a campaign to rouse the community into helping support the push for domestic partnership benefits for city employees, including same-sex couples.

The initiative, which is included in the city budget, will have to be approved by the City Council which means that Council members have to be lobbied and contacted to show there is solid support.

Reports from district budget meetings being held across the city show that an organized effort to derail the initiative is being mounted by local conservatives, mostly for religious reasons.

At the District 7 budget meeting on August 24, former City Councilwoman Elena Guajardo reports that there were five people who spoke against the benefits including one man identified as Rev. Flowers who said that a vote for domestic partnership benefits was a vote against marriage.

In District 9, which held its meeting on August 25, the five people spoke against the initiative received applause, the five who spoke for it did not.

At the meeting, District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan received a loud round of applause when she stated, "We need to make sure this does not promote abuse. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman but that is my opinion and others have their opinions. I believe in equality and nondiscrimination, but I do have questions about the benefits that are being offered."

In conservative District 10, staffers for Councilman Carlton Soules are replying to emails he's received on the issue by writing back, "At this time, he has not made a decision on supporting this proposal and will not be able to until he has seen the details and the financials of the proposal."

In District 1, the budget meeting saw only two people speak against domestic partnership benefits and several who spoke in favor. In a reversal from District 9, those who spoke in favor of the initiative were applauded.

In a report sent to QSanAntonio by activist and blogger Randy Bear, he writes that perennial gadfly and self-professed homophobe Jack Finger said at the District 1 meeting that a vote for domestic partnerships was a vote for people "shacking up."

"Attorney Bill Goodman and activist Gilbert Casillas both gave great responses," writes Bear. "Bill told Finger 'Sorry Mr. Finger, but it’s not a shack, it’s a home' followed by applause. Bill then gave a personal testimony about his late partner and how they worked to build a home. Gilbert reminded Finger that Texas supports common law marriages which are what Finger calls 'shacking up.' So if Finger disapproves he should take that up with Governor Perry.' More applause. "

Activists say that the only way to insure that the passage of domestic partnership benefits is by members of the GLBT community contacting their individual City Council members.

One way they hope to do this is with postcards that ask the Mayor and City Council members to vote yes on domestic partnerships. Activists hope to have the community fill out as many cards as possible so that they can be presented at the City Council meeting prior to the budget vote on September 15.

Distribution of the cards will begin this weekend with activists hitting the Main Avenue strip where they hope to get people at the bars and clubs to take a moment to fill them out. (Sample card shown above.)

Sparky's Pub will become a distribution point for picking up the cards or dropping them off.

Besides the bars and clubs, activists are asking anyone who's attending an event or meeting, gay or straight, to take cards with them so that friends and family can fill them out.

Anyone needing 50 or more cards can contact Elena Guajardo at 210-681-6798 to arrange for a pickup.

Guajardo is also seeking donations to help defray the cost of printing the cards. She said anyone who'd like to contribute can send a check to: DP Benefits, Stonewall Democrats, P.O. Box 12814, San Antonio, Texas, 78212. Checks should be made out to the Stonewall Democrats with "DP benefits" in the memo line.

Guajardo says that if individuals cannot get hold of a card they should contact their City Council representative by phone or email and ask them to support domestic partnership benefits for city employees. Or you can send an email to Guajardo at elenaguajardo@stonewallsanantonio.org with your name and address and a card can be filled out for you.

"This is an opportunity our community is being given by City Manager Sculley," says Guajardo. "It would be a shame if we did not do everything possible to make this initiative a reality."

Click here for contact information for the Mayor and City Council.

City proposes to extend benefits for domestic partners
WOAI-TV, August 25, 2011
City manager Sheryl Sculley proposed benefits for city workers should include domestic partners, regardless of their sexual orientation. It comes with a price tag of about $300,000 to $400,000. J. Lynn Armstrong, who has been in a domestic partnership for more than 20 years, says the move is long overdue.

Jack Finger at budget hearing
TV4SA, August 26, 2011
City Council gadfly and self-professed homophobe Jack Finger speaks at the 2011 City of San Antonio budget hearings on same-sex domestic partner benefits and the play "Corpus Christi" at the San Pedro Playhouse. This clip was for San Antonio Public Access TV, TV4SA PATV.

Friends with (and without) benefits in SA
PlazaDeArmasTX.com, August 25, 2011
As budget hearings go, the first hour of Monday’s gathering on the East Side was pretty upbeat, even jovial at times. Then Gerald Ripley walked up to the microphone. Ripley, the longtime pastor of the evangelical Abundant Life Church, brought a touch of gloom to the room by denouncing Sculley’s proposed initiative to offer benefits to domestic partners of municipal employees. Ripley said he was speaking on behalf of a group of 85 local pastors who all adamantly oppose the plan.

DP benefits proposed in city budget not a sure thing
QSanAntonio.com, August 18, 2011

Last week City Manager Sheryl Sculley unveiled a new budget that included extending domestic partnership benefits to City of San Antonio, CPS and San Antonio Water System employees, including same-sex couples.

While this is a historic first for the city's GLBT community, activists warn that the question of domestic partner benefits is far from a done deal. Even though the initiative is supported by Mayor Julian Castro, it could get derailed in district budget meetings being held across the city. At these meetings citizens can speak out against specific budget items.

Last Friday, District 10 City Councilman Carlton Soules, a conservative Northside politician, told the San Antonio Express News, "I need to know what it means from a financial perspective, what guidelines they're following. What's the definition of a domestic partner?” he said. “At this point, with me personally, I don't see that it's going to be a major issue in our district. But obviously, this is why we have public hearings and our meetings."

On the following Monday at the District 10 budget meeting, six people spoke out against domestic partner benefits even though City Manager Sheryl Sculley, who was at the meeting, gave several good reasons why the city should offer them. How those six dissenting voices will affect Councilman Soules' vote on the initiative is hard to gauge.

At the District 5 meeting on Thursday, August 18, a local pastor spoke out and said he was organizing other religious leaders to oppose the domestic partner initiative. He urged Councilman David Medina to vote no. "We were not counting on Medina's support, " says Elena Guajardo, co-chair of the Stonewall Democrats. "However, this only confirms that we must act and not be silent."

One source at City Hall says the Mayor and City Council members have all received negative phone calls regarding domestic partnership benefits. That is why GLBT activists are asking the community to attend the budget meetings in their respective districts. Some of these meetings have already taken place, others continue through August 29.

At one gathering of activists attended by QSanAntonio participants were told that monitoring any opposition voiced at the district meetings was crucial in order to determine what parts of the city were most resistant to the initiative and which council members need to be lobbied prior to the budget vote.

There are two primary talking points that the Mayor and activists are giving in support of offering the benefits:

1) By providing benefits for domestic partners, regardless of sexual orientation, the City of San Antonio remains competitive in hiring and retaining valuable human resource talent and establishes it as a world-class employer.

2) Providing benefits, regardless of sexual orientation, demonstrates that the City of San Antonio does not regard any individual as a second-class citizen and provides the same benefits for all employees.

Speaking at the meeting of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio on August 15, District 1 City Councilman Diego Bernal urged the community to contact their city council members to express support for the initiative and to attend the district meetings.

Below is a listing of upcoming district budget meetings.

Thursday, August 18, District 5, Senior Center, 2701 S. Presa St.
Monday, August 22, District 2, S.J. Davis Middle School, 4702 E. Houston St.
Monday, August 22, District 6, Alice Trevino Lopez Senior Center, 8353 Culebra Rd.
Tuesday, August 23, District 8, University Methodist Church, 5084 DeZavala Rd.
Wed., August 24, District 7, St. Mary's University -University Center, 1 Camino Santa Maria
Thursday, August 25, District 1, TriPoint YMCA, 3233 N. St. Mary's St.
Thursday, August 25, District 9, Parman Library, 20735 Wilderness Oak
Monday, August 29, District 4, Miller's Pond Gyn, 6175 Old Pearsall Rd.

Click here for contact information for the Mayor and City Council.