The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved an ordinance April 26 requiring that contracted employees’ same sex spouses and domestic partners be provided the same benefits as other employees’ spouses.

The ordinance amends the city’s “living wage” law to require that in addition to providing a living wage, businesses contracted by the city also offer the same health care and other benefits to workers’ same sex spouses and partners as those given to heterosexual spouses.

The amendment is intended to ensure that city contractors covered by the living wage law would not discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation or marital status. Staff said the amendment was proposed to allow the equal benefits requirement to be applied, ensuring city compliance with the living wage law.

Under the living wage ordinance, businesses working on contracts totaling more than $54,200 must pay workers a minimum wage unless the contractor is a city grantee, nonprofit corporation or corporation providing banking services.

Other cities across the state, including San Diego, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento have adopted such equal benefits ordinances in recent years to help make sure that contractors are not discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation.

“We think it will fit in well with the city’s current administrative structure,” City Attorney Marsha Moutrie told the City Council.

Jim Carroll, the interim executive director of Equality California, praised the council’s action for requiring equal benefits, saying that some out of state companies receiving contracts in the past that did not provide the benefits have had an unfair advantage to local businesses.

“The equal benefits ordinance is an important measure that would help California businesses, including businesses here in Santa Monica, while at the same time help to advance equality and make sure that tax dollars don’t go to those who discriminate,” Carroll told the council.

“This smart economic policy will also continue Santa Monica’s leadership as a cutting edge city that values diversity and promotes equality.”

City Councilman Kevin McKeown defended the city’s efforts to support same sex couples, saying that Santa Monica has been among the leaders on domestic partners’ rights and was also an early champion of a living wage law.

“Sometimes being first in writing new, pioneering laws means important things are inadvertently left out, and now we’ve gone back and made sure our community’s strong values of compassion, equity and fairness are fully expressed,” McKeown said.

Mayor Richard Bloom noted that Santa Monica is not the first city to take a step toward requiring equal benefits for same sex couples but he hopes the action can influence other communities to take the same step.

“This is a relatively small, but a significant step that helps us ensure that those who do business with the city of Santa Monica will not discriminate against couples that live together in same sex unions,” Bloom said.

“I hope that by joining a growing list of cities tonight, we will in the process encourage other cities to do the same… and encourage activists in other cities to remind their own city councils that this is an action they can take to undermine a culture of discrimination that unfortunately still exists in our society.”

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