Domestic partner benefits go mainstream

Perhaps the biggest deal regarding the city of Everett’s decision to offer health coverage to its employees’ domestic partners and dependents is this: It wasn’t a very big deal.

The city’s sensible move wasn’t groundbreaking among major employers — Snohomish County already has such a policy, as do other cities and a host of large private companies. Still, the absence of public controversy over the decision is a sign that we’ve turned a significant corner toward inclusion, a welcome development indeed.

Everett’s policy, developed by the mayor’s office and City Council and approved by the council Wednesday with just one dissenting vote, applies to same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally. To qualify for coverage, couples must be in an “exclusive and emotionally committed” relationship, live together and not be married to someone else. It’s a recognition of the reality that traditional marriage isn’t available to same-sex couples, and isn’t the preferred option for many heterosexual couples.

The experience of other government entities indicates that Everett can expect between 3 and 4 percent of its workforce — some 32 employees — to apply, costing the city about $250,000 more per year than it currently pays for health insurance. That’s a reasonable investment in fairness, not to mention staying competitive in the hunt for well-qualified workers.

The lone vote against the plan was cast by Arlan Hatloe, who took a principled stand based on his own moral beliefs. He did so respectfully, showing that reasonable people can disagree and move on without bitterness.

It was also appropriate that this vote came at the same meeting in which members were approved for the city’s new Diversity Advisory Board. The 15 board members represent a broad range of minorities, whose numbers are growing throughout the city and county. The new board offers an important new avenue of communication between minority citizens and city leaders, putting city government in a better position to take effective steps toward policies that serve all citizens.

We’re glad that’s no longer a controversial idea.

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