Doral delays decision on benefits to workers’ domestic partners

Doral City Council members on Wednesday listen to audience members discuss giving benefits to the domestic partners of city employees
Doral City Council members on Wednesday listen to audience members discuss giving benefits to the domestic partners of city employees Via Facebook

The Doral City Council delayed a plan Wednesday to extend benefits to city workers’ domestic partners after an emotional debate in which Mayor Luigi Boria suggested the law would promote adultery, fornication and lewd and lascivious acts.

Two council members wept openly during the discussion, which lasted three hours. Gay-rights activists filled the room, urging the council to pass the ordinance, which would allow unmarried couples who live together to qualify for benefits. More than a dozen local municipalities already have similar laws, according to the city, as does the county.

Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz, who cried from her chair on the dais, said her late father-in-law, who was a pastor, inspired her to love everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. The chambers were silent.

But the mayor, an ordained minister at Alpha and Omega Church, sided with conservative religious leaders, one of whom opposed the proposal because he said it would give same-sex couples an “open door in Doral.”

“I support moral values, Godly values,” said Steve Alessi, pastor of Metro Life Church in Doral.

Ruiz snatched a tissue. Vice Mayor Christi Fraga followed.

She told residents the decision was hard for her because of her traditional Christian background, but added that she “is no one to judge those who believe differently.”

“I'm a leader of a new generation,” she said.

Gay activists, including members of LGBT rights group SAVE, have been organizing and lobbying in Doral for several days. Members of the group attended Wednesday’s meeting, along with opposing activists from the Christian Family Coalition.

Boria said Florida law doesn't acknowledge gay marriages from other states and argued the city could not pass an ordinance that would potentially collide with state law — though that has not been a problem in other municipalities. He asked the city attorney to take a further look.

Ruiz, who sponsored the legislation, agreed to a unanimous deferral but made clear her proposal was not about gay rights but about extending city-employee benefits to all couples living together, regardless of sexual orientation.

“Right now, this legally doesn’t have the strength or financial footing that it needs,” said Councilwoman Ana Maria Rodriguez, who opposes the legislation.

There is no deadline for the city attorney to return with an opinion. For couples to benefit, they would have to be registered as domestic partners with the county and agree to notify the government in writing if they broke up.

The contentious debate had an immediate effect in the meeting.

After council members deferred the proposal, Matthew Dietz, an adjunct law professor at St. Thomas University, was slated to receive a commendation for assisting the city with a service-animal ordinance.

But when it was time for him to get his plaque, he rejected it.

“The city commission [deferred] a domestic-partnership benefits ordinance after the speeches of pastors that spewed hate and twisted the law,” Dietz said. “I could not accept an award from a city that values service dogs more than human beings. I could not stand for equality for persons with disabilities and not stand for the same equality for my LGBT brothers and sisters.”