Cuccinelli opinion kills benefits extension for state employee partners
A plan by former Governor Tim Kaine to extended health insurance benefits to domestic partners of state employees has screeched to a halt after an opinion issued today by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli‘s office.
Last week Governor Bob McDonnell told me on NBC12’s First at Four that he was holding off on dealing with the planned changes until he received an opinion from the Attorney General. In the letter to McDonnell, Cuccinelli cites a number of “defects” with the proposal that would prevent the Governor from implementing the plan that would dramatically extend benefits to adults in committed relationships, particularly those who are not married or in same-sex relationships. Based on the information received from Cuccinelli, McDonnell’s office withdrew the proposal.
But while this kills the movement to extend benefits in the short-term, the debate itself is far from over. Both conservatives and liberal groups weighed in on today’s decision from very different perspectives. Each side has already taken the fight to the next stage preparing for a long-term showdown over the rights of same-sex couples under state employment. The battle could have a great deal of influence on the rights of homosexuals across all of Virginia.
Conservatives, who have a great deal of influence in the House of Delegates and the Governor’s Mansion, have already worked to create a legislative remedy to prevent a Governor from taking this type of action in the future. Firebrand conservative Del. Bob Marshall has introduced a budget amendment that would take the power away from the executive branch to make these kind of sweeping administrative changes to the Commonwealth’s benefits package. Meanwhile, liberal groups that support the interest of same-sex couples are calling the ruling discrimination and claim that decisions like these put Virginia at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting quality employees.
Aside from the obvious changes to the administrative protocol of the Commonwealth’s benefits package, this story provides interesting political and strategic insight to many of the operators in Richmond. Obviously, the big white elephant in the middle of this discussion is gay marriage. An overhaul to the benefits package would not be necessary, were Virginia a state that legalized the practice. Despite the rhetoric on both sides about cost, access, etc. the real fight is over homosexuality. Conservative groups are working to stop any creep toward a redefinition of traditional marriage, while liberal groups are hoping break down barriers for same-sex couples.
We plan to take a close look at the this story a bit more in the coming week. Tuesday on First at 4, Victoria Cobb from the Family Foundation of Virginia will join me. The Family Foundation has fought the proposed changes and hailed today’s decision. Then later in the week, I will talk to a representative from Equality Virginia, a group that fights for the rights of gay community.