Small Tenn. Town Sets Precedent for Same-Sex Couples
The small town of Collegedale is the first place in Tennessee that will offer benefits to same-sex spouses of its government employees.
Christi McGeehee, who doesn't live in Collegedale but does some of her shopping there, was adamant.
"My problem is, is that where do we draw the line?" She cautioned, "You know, what is it that we do as a society to help each other to know the differences between right and wrong."
It was standing room only at City Hall on the night of the decision, reports News Channel 9. Protesters outside raised signs that read, "Keep traditional marriage."
Because of the nature of the decision, city commissioners took security precautions. There were metal detectors at the doors and police were checking bags.
About a year ago, city Detective Kat Cooper tried to get benefits for her wife Krista. They were married in Maryland this spring. At that time, she was denied, so she her brought her concerns before the board of commissions.
In June they had to make a decision. With the ruling of the Supreme Court still looming and knowing they would set a precedent among the 346 cities in Tennessee, they came to a vote. They decided 4-1 to make the decision later on.
The Times Free Press reported that during the public hearing Monday night Cooper remain calm. She said, "It should be of no importance to my employer if my lifelong commitment is made to a man or a woman - both are equal." She added, "Small ripples can precipitate huge waves. In this case, a great opportunity lies in your hands."
Resident Jeff Walton spoke out against the decision. "Changing the policy will legitimize same-sex unions by giving those relationships the same status as traditionally defined husband-and-wife marriages," he said. "That’s a decision with far-reaching consequences for our city and society."
Nonetheless, the commission decided, again 4-1, to offer benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees. Before casting his supporting vote, Commissioner Larry Hanson said, "You don’t know how lucky we are to get to vote on this."
Mayor John Turner cast the lone "no" vote on behalf of his constituency. "That’s what we’re supposed to do as elected officials," he said, "represent the people of our district."
"I think that’s what America is all about," said politically conservative Collegedale resident Katie Cowley Carpenter to News Channel 9. "They are entitled to all of the same rights the rest of us enjoy."
"I’m a little torn," said Sujai Jimenez, "because religiously I know we don’t agree with that, same-sex marriage and stuff like that. At the same time, I don’t want to judge or get in the middle of it. And I do believe in equality."
But devout Seventh Day Adventist Randi Buhl agreed with the decision. "That’s the way our world is right now," she said. "So fair is fair."
News Channel 9 asked other cities in Tennessee what the decision would mean for them.
"We haven’t really discussed it, brought it up or even thought about it," said the mayor of Red Bank, John Roberts.
"I think we may consider it at some point," said Soddy Daisy mayor Janice Cagle. "It’s not on the radar right now. [But] I feel we will, in the future, look into it. I think everyone will."