What’s with our county government? A gay couple, married since 2008, was not permitted by a county caseworker to sit together while one of them applied for public assistance. According to the 6/12 Union-Tribune article, “Heterosexual married couples are routinely allowed to stay together while county social workers interview them. “ When the couple asked to speak to a supervisor, they were told that the county does not recognize same-sex marriages. Anthony Gioffre and Gary Rader later complained to the ACLU and the county apologized.
I’m not ready to let this one slide even though the recent court decision on gay marriage contains two contradictory clauses. “On May 26, the state Supreme Court let stand Proposition 8, a ban on same-sex marriages that voters narrowly approved in November. But the court also recognized 18,000 or so marriages that occurred during the five months when same-sex marriages were legally permitted in California. “ If it were simply a matter of an uninformed, clueless caseworker making a wrong decision, accepting the apology would be in order, with the assumption that the employee would be re-tooled. It was not a matter of one employee- the supervisor said the same thing
Now you would think that one out of two county public service employees would have gotten this right- particularly the one getting the bigger bucks. At its most benign, this incident reflects a rather breath taking ignorance of a big ticket news item in San Diego, California and the United States. The good news is that ignorance is curable. Employees should be receiving training on legal issues that are pertinent to the services the county provides.
The possibility of something more disturbing- institutional prejudice- lingers in my mind. I am not saying that the county per se is inherently prejudicial. I am pointing out that administrators/elected representatives are turning a blind eye all too often to those members of the workforce who seem unwilling to provide equal access and protection of the law to all citizens.
In June of 2008, the San Diego County Clerk reassigned workers who objected to gay marriage. County Clerk Gary “Smith cited Government Code Section 12940, which requires an employer to explore ‘any available reasonable alternative means of accommodating the religious belief or observance [of an employee], including the possibilities of excusing the person from those duties that conflict with his or her religious belief.’” We were all left wondering if that meant that a county fire fighter could object to rescuing us from a fire, on religious grounds of course, if it were at a house displaying the rainbow flag.
Same-sex marriage is not the only issue that speaks to institutional prejudice. What about the county’s abysmal record in extending food stamp coverage to the poor? Lane Tobias did a great job reporting on this in the OB Rag. The county’s record on these issues raises troubling questions. Should public employees be allowed to cherry pick those whom they protect, defend and serve? What does it mean to us as San Diegans when our local municipalities ignore the letter or the spirit of the law? When laws that apply to civil rights group break down on a local level we ease our way into legitimizing hate and intolerance.
I’ve had enough of both hate and intolerance these past weeks.