The City of Omaha will not offer health care and dental benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that extended a variety of federal benefits to married, same-sex couples.
In a press release issued Wednesday, Mayor Jean Stothert said the city's legal department has reviewed its policies following the ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act — and after a request from the city's police union.
In that review, officials “determined the city's health insurance summary plan descriptions make clear that the definition of 'spouse' does not include same-sex married spouses.”
Those spouses, however, are entitled to pension and flexible spending benefits as a result of the ruling.
Stothert said health and dental benefits could be provided only through negotiations with the city's unions.
“We have an obligation to negotiate with all seven collective bargaining units should they desire to expand health care and dental benefits to same-sex spouses,” she said.
John Wells, president of the police union, said he's disappointed by the city's decision and doesn't believe officials need to go back to the bargaining table to extend benefits to same-sex couples.
Because the city is self-insured, he said, it retains the right to set its own health plan descriptions and definitions.
Wells said the added benefits would affect a handful of his union's members and result in a “negligible” cost to the city.
“(City officials have) decided that they're not going to do the right thing by these folks, that they're going to play politics,” he said. “Most other corporations and other entities have these types of benefits in their health care plan.”
Wells said his group will push for the benefits in future contract negotiations. He said he does not expect the issue to disappear.
“I think there's been a shift in attitudes in general, and obviously the Supreme Court case was groundbreaking in a lot of different ways,” he said. “I think that's the tip of the iceberg.”