By David Tulis
In the next two weeks members of Chattanooga city council will be deciding whether to afford medical and other benefits to homosexuals and sexual partners of unmarried men and women staffers who have cohabited for at least a year.
City council heard many arguments for and against at a meeting Tuesday in a first reading of the proposal. Scheduled is a second reading Nov. 12 and a final reading and vote Nov. 19.
In determining whether benefits should be awarded to employees’ sexual intimates outside the covenant of marriage, we should take a moment to look at the debate from a public welfare perspective.
The city is obliged to think entirely and wholly of the public interest, according to its charter. “[C]ities operate under their charters for the public good alone,” according to an 1875 Tennessee case whose authority is still quoted today [italics added]. The gay position seeks to incorporate this premise. It says gay benefits will increase the appeal of city jobs, and bring better people into them. It’s true that a city offering gay benefits will bring more homosexual applicants. But being gay is something quite apart from being qualified to work for a municipal entity. A man is not necessarily a better employee because his bedroom partner has whiskers and wears Haggar slacks.
Councilmen should ask themselves: Is rewarding benefits to gays a form of private inurement? Inurement is a benefit. Is adding a gay benefits public — or private?
The concept of public benefit
The city charter it obtained from the general assembly gives care for public safety in numerous ways.
The city is a corporation designed to have “perpetual existence” is free to act as a person (for example, able to sue and be sued) and to act “for the establishment of a hospital, poor house, workhouse or house of correction; and may sell, lease or dispose of said property for the benefit of the city” (sec. 1.1). The reference to poor house harkens back to the time before the welfare state when needy people got no electronic subsidy from Uncle Sam, but a time in which charity was local and personal, and poor people had to work for their keep in the poor house.
Many other rules also promote public welfare. No felon may hold office unless he has voting and other rights restored (sec 8.53).
The council has authority “to pass for the government of the city any ordinance not in conflict with the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Tennessee or the statutes thereof” (sec. 11.1). The city has power to build an airport “to establish, construct, equip, maintain and operate an airport for the use of aeroplanes” (sic). The city has power to “to require railroad companies to place and maintain watchmen, at their own expense, at such railroad street crossings as the city council may deem dangerous or a menace to public travel” (sec. 16.2). Against firecrackers and toy pistols is a rule granting city authority to regulate items that prove ”dangerous to the security and well-being of the inhabitants or to property”(sec 2.1.19). If an uproar is too great, the city is given power to “provide for the arrest, imprisonment and punishment of riotous and disorderly persons within the city, and for the punishment of all breaches of the peace, noise, disturbance or disorderly assemblies” (sec 2.1.23)
Sexual morays in view
The city’s public interest touches on sexual morays in a provision allowing it to suppress sex trafficking.
(17) Same-Theatrical and other exhibitions; suppression of bawdy houses, gambling equipment, etc. To license, tax and regulate theatrical or other exhibitions, moving picture shows, amusements and to prohibit and suppress gambling houses, disorderly houses, bawdy houses, obscene pictures and literature; the sale, manufacture or transportation of intoxicating liquors in violation of the laws of the state or ordinances of the city, and to confiscate and destroy gambling equipment, stills and intoxicating liquors when manufactured, possessed or transported in violation of the federal or state laws or ordinances of the city. (Priv. Acts 1949, Ch. 536, § 2)
Chattanooga is as a town may have preceded the creation of the state. But it is chartered by the general assembly, based in Nashville. It is wholly a creature of state government.
This provision in the charter (a document separate from the more easily modified city code) indicates the city has a duty to regulate illicit behavior that tends to be destructive of individuals and the public at large. A bawdy house is a whorehouse, where sexual relations are sold for cash. Obscene pictures and literature refer to pornography, which incites its users into sexual arousal and is thought to encourage sexual activity. Intoxicating liquors are thought to destroy individual dignity of those made in the image of God, and are known to be destructive of family capital and family life.
The charter implicitly favors public order and a suppression of people and entities that encourage disorder. The word “suppression” is a result of the operation of police power. Cities are given delegated police power in innumerable areas, some of which I suggest elsewhere are illicit and suppressive of the free market and personal constitutional liberties. That aside, the city charter is a rule of life for the city. Beyond its scope city government is forbidden to go.
The charter provisions I cite indicate an interest in sexual morals and their protection. We know these barriers are there because the gay ordinance is an attempt to override them.
‘Non-platonic’ relations in ink
The city describes the sexual interest of unmarried partners delicately. A city FAQ says “the city employee and the domestic partner share a primary residence and have chosen to share one another’s lives in an non-platonic, committed, and mutually caring manner.”
“Voluntary sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons” is Black’s Law Dictionary definition of fornication. Fornication is condemned in the scriptures as a sin because it violates the protections afforded by law to marriage, and that because fornication is union and intimacy without promise or future and without commitment until death. The city charter views fornication as a vice, something to be discouraged because it does not further the public good.
Opposition to the gay ordinance is premised on the bedrock definition of marriage. Also, it is based on the presumption that public authority should protect it, and that to subsidize “non-platonic” relationships violates the city’s purpose to benefit the public at large.
Sources: “Municipal corporations,” Tennessee Jurisprudence
David Tulis is host of Nooganomics.com, which airs in Chattanooga 1 to 3 p.m at Copperhead 1240 AM, or online at 1240wsdt.com. The show explores local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.