Despite plans to make an official announcement Wednesday, the city of Seattle will no longer move forward with a plan to give gay and lesbian city employees who get married a monthly "allowance."
The City Attorney's Office, which months ago gave the plan a thumbs up, changed their mind late Tuesday afternoon following a report by KIRO Radio.
"Up until 4:01 p.m. today, we were expecting to announce our work on this publicly tomorrow afternoon at a press conference at City Hall, as reported accurately by KIRO Radio earlier today," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said in a statement Tuesday. "At 4:01 today, all of that changed."
On Tuesday, KIRO Radio reported that Mayor McGinn and members of the Seattle City Council were set to announce the new benefit at a press conference on Wednesday.
Mayor McGinn confirmed the scheduled announcement when questioned by reporters at an unrelated event Tuesday.
"If the federal government has an unjust law, I don't think it's fair to punish our workers who are following all the rules," he said.
Starting Jan. 1, gay and lesbian city employees who get married under the state's new marriage equality law were to receive a monthly allowance of $90, or approximately $1,080 over a 12-month period.
The stipend was designed to offset federal taxes that those couples must pay due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The benefit to gay couples would have cost taxpayers an estimated $162,000 a year. Multiple sources who work for the city told KIRO Radio the expense had already been worked into the city's 2013-2014 budget.
However, in an internal email sent at 4:01 p.m. Tuesday, Civil Division Chief Jean Boler with the Seattle City Attorney's Office said the stipend would violate a state law that prevents the city from providing benefits to married couples that are not provided to state registered domestic partners.
It is the intent of the legislature that for all purposes under state law, state registered domestic partners shall be treated the same as married spouses. Any privilege, immunity, right, benefit, or responsibility granted or imposed by statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other law to an individual because the individual is or was a spouse, or because the individual is or was an in-law in a specified way to another individual, is granted on equivalent terms, substantive and procedural, to an individual because the individual is or was in a state registered domestic partnership or because the individual is or was, based on a state registered domestic partnership, related in a specified way to another individual. The provisions of chapter 521, Laws of 2009 shall be liberally construed to achieve equal treatment, to the extent not in conflict with federal law, of state registered domestic partners and married spouses.
"In view of this analysis, we advise that the City not go forward with the ordinance as written and postpone any announcement related to the ordinance," Boler wrote in the email, which was given to KIRO Radio by a source who works for the city.
The email was in direct opposition to a memo sent to the mayor and members of the city council on Oct. 11.
The memo, from Assistant City Attorneys Fritz Wollett and Gigi Gilman, said the city's plan to offer the benefit would lessen "the discriminatory impact" of DOMA.
"The City has a legitimate interest in seeing that employees, who are the victims of discrimination that the City cannot control, are compensated fairly," said the memo, which was also provided to KIRO Radio by a source who works for the city.
While the memo says such a benefit is "untested in the courts," it concludes by saying, "This office does not foresee any significant legal obstacles to the adoption of this practice, particularly if limited to married same sex couples."
According to a source who provided the memos, City Attorney Pete Holmes was not pleased with negative press surrounding KIRO Radio's original report on Tuesday.
After receiving the memos, KIRO Radio reached out to the mayor's office for comment. Here, in full, is the statement Mayor Mike McGinn provided:
Based on written advice from the law department, we have been working with Council on a proposal that would help to mitigate the discriminatory impacts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Up until 4:01pm today, we were expecting to announce our work on this publicly tomorrow afternoon at a press conference at City Hall, as reported accurately by KIRO Radio earlier today. At 4:01 today, all of that changed. That's when we received an email from the law department that was contrary to their previous advice. The law department informed us that this effort would be in violation of state law and that we should not host a press conference with councilmembers. Based on this latest advice, we are not holding a press conference on this work tomorrow and are now evaluating our options for next steps in our work to help address these inequalities.