Same-sex spouses to be recognized in city retirement plans

Council voted Sept. 15 to recognize same-sex spouses as beneficiaries.
Cameron Thomas / Graphic Designer

Same-sex spouses of city employees will now be recognized as beneficiaries in retirement plans, as voted by Columbia City Council last month.

The three bills passed were part of the meeting’s overall budget and officially revised the definition of “spouse” in the 457 and 401(a) Money Purchase Plans and Police and Fire Pension Plan, which benefits fire and police department employees.

This means city employees who are legally married to a person of the same sex will now receive the same retirement benefits as opposite-sex couples. For example, if a city employee or retiree dies, the lump-sum fund from their 457 and 401(a) plans would pass on to the beneficiary of the deceased’s choice.

The revision was made in accordance with the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in United States v. Windsor, which repealed Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. Section 3 had limited the definition of “spouse” to someone of the opposite sex.

Because same-sex marriage is not recognized in Missouri, city employees won’t receive the same benefits through state pension plans. However, as long as the couple was legally married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages, spouses will receive benefits.

City Council members said overall they supported the bill and considered it routine. Second Ward councilman Michael Trapp said the council’s decision is one that should be considered a no-brainer.

“Columbia's change is another step forward in basic fairness and common sense,” he said. “Even if one cannot accept the moral argument of wanting to do the right thing by your employees, you have to offer competitive benefits to attract the best people.”

Sixth Ward councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she agreed that aside from the basic rights of equality provided by the bill, one of the main advantages of its passing will be a newfound competitive edge for the hiring of city employees.

“It will attract and keep more quality employees to the city regardless of their sexual orientation,” she said.

Trapp said while the city may benefit from the revision by adding new employees, its main benefit will be demonstrating equality in city government.

“The big advantage is treating people fairly,” he said. “How we view families is dynamic, and if we need to go back and look at it again, we have a fair and open process to do so.”

Hoppe said that if further change were to come via the Statehouse, it would be in the distant future.

“I can't speak for the state of Missouri as they are very slow to move in the right direction — snail pace — and often even going backwards on many issues,” she said. “However, once Columbia moves forward on an issue, other cities and eventually the state moves forward.”

Trapp said he believes in the importance of staying current in legislation in order to best serve the city.

“I think we have to continue to examine and update our ordinances to make sure they stay current to existing conditions and that they are fair, equitable and reasonable,” he said.

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