Equal Benefits Ordinances

An equal benefits ordinance requires contractors with a state or local government to offer equal benefits to its employees. To comply with such a law, a contractor that offers health insurance and other benefits to employees' spouses must offer equivalent coverage to employees' domestic partners. One state and several cities and counties in the United States currently have equal benefits laws.

Married couples receive more than one thousand different federal-based benefits, in addition to many other governmental, societal benefits and employment-based associated with marriage. However, federal-based benefits are denied to same-sex partners because their relationships are not recognized by the federal government.

With that in mind, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors worked to create an equitable benefits policy. When the Board passed the law in June 4, 1996, the city of San Francisco became the first jurisdiction in the nation to address employment inequities faced by unmarried couples.

The purpose of the law is equal treatment. Employees with spouses and employees with domestic partners should receive the same compensation: salary and benefits. The law does not require city contractors to begin offering benefits not previously offered. If a contractor does not offer benefits to married employees, it is not required to offer benefits to employees in domestic partnerships.


California is the first state to have an equal benefits ordinance.


Twelve cities and counties have equal benefits ordinances.

Other cities have similar ordinances:

  • Salt Lake City, UT
    In 2004, the city amended its procurement rules to provide a modest (half point) preference for companies with non-discrimination policies that include protections for GLBTQ employees.  
  • Portland, ME
    In May 2001, the city of Portland enacted an ordinance that requires organizations that receive funds from the city's Housing and Community Development to provide equal benefits to same-sex partners as they offer to married spouses. The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities in Portland announced that they would not comply with the ordinance and lost city funds. In 2003, Catholic Charities and the Center for Marriage Law, on behalf of 11 married couples, filed lawsuits. The U.S. District Court for Maine concluded that the health benefit plan offered by Catholic Charities was covered under federal law and thus was not subject to Portland's ordinance. However, other fringe benefits, such as the Employee Assistance Program, bereavement leave and leaves of absences are subject to the local ordinance and must be offered on an equal basis to domestic partners. The Cumberland County Superior Court ruled against the Center for Marriage Law when it held that Maine’s Defense of Marriage Act does not bar state and local jurisdictions from enacting domestic partner ordinances and allocating benefits as they see fit. Portland Code of Ordinances, Sect. 13.6-34 
  • Sacramento, CA
    The city requires that contractors who are required to have a nondiscrimination provisions are also required to allow employees to take unpaid personal leave on the same terms for married couples and domestic partners. Sacramento City Code, Ch. 2.120.070 
  • Atlanta, GA
    The city gives businesses competing for city contracts a bidding preference if they offer domestic partner benefits to employees. Atlanta Code of Ordinances, Ch 2, Art. X, Div. 4, §2-1214.