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HOLMBERG: Proposed city ordinance for same-sex marriage benefits is toothless

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–A casual glance at a proposed city ordinance could make it seem like a bombshell, that it could actually bypass state law when it comes to gay rights and marriages.

Sec. 2-1120 would extend “benefits to partners of city employees in same sex marriages.”

But a more careful reading of Ordinance 2013-154 shows it wouldn’t do a thing, as least not now.

Right from the top, the proposed ordinance to expand spousal benefits to city employees in same-sex marriages performed in other states acknowledges it can only reach as far as permitted or required by law.

City attorney Allen Jackson says these benefits would not be lawful right now.

(Read the proposed ordinance here: http://eservices.ci.richmond.va.us/applications/clerkstracking/getPDF.asp?NO=2013-154)

Even if passed (there will be a public hearing about it on Sept. 9), the revision of the city code would be toothless until the General Assembly changes state law on the subject.

“We are at the mercy, so to speak, of the General Assembly,” said Richmond 3rd District City Councilman Chris Hilbert. “We hope they will see this as the right thing to do.”

The ordinance was proposed by City Councilman Parker Agelasto and sponsored by Council President Charles Samuels and Chris Hilbert.

Is this just a gesture?

Agelasto (5th District) tells CBS-6 he wants to make sure there’s no hint of discrimination the city code and he wants Richmond to be ready if the state follows the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

He and Hilbert see the ordinance as laying the groundwork to getting benefits to same-sex couples as soon as the laws change.

“If the General Assembly would just allow municipalities to make the decision themselves, that would be adequate,” Hilbert said. “So we wouldn’t need the state to completely change its mind on it, but just say the city could provide these benefits.”

He said recent polls indicate the tide is turning in favor of same-sex marriage in Virginia.

“The train is coming,” Hilbert said. “And the state and the city, we need to get on board with it.”

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