Well, this is getting bizarre! Wednesday’s silly little story about the Alberta government defining same-sex couples as “benefit partners” instead of “spouses” in their employee benefit plan is causing more of a stir than expected.
Same-sex marriage is a legal reality in Canada, but Alberta’s gay government workers are being categorized differently. It should be a no-brainer to remedy this and move on—or so you’d think.
Lloyd Snelgrove, an Alberta cabinet minister and president of the treasury board, is continuing to defend the separate-but-equal treatment in the benefit plan, saying that the government’s benefit plan shouldn’t be used to “drive social change” and that anyone who has a problem with it should go to the Human Rights Commission instead of the plan’s source.
“Drive social change?” Same-sex marriage has been legal in Alberta since 2005; the change already happened. Surely this is just a matter of updating the books to keep consistent. But even Alberta’s premier, Ed Stelmach, has now come out against calling same-sex spouses “spouses” in the plan: “The benefits are the same,” he said during Wednesday’s question period, “and that’s the most important thing.”
It’s true: The benefits are the same—just like the water that leads to separate drinking fountains come from the same pipes, but something’s still not right. It’s a cliché, but one apparently requires repeating: Separate but equal is not equal. The Alberta government should just acknowledge reality, update the darn plan, and move on to something more important.