Now, the change must be approved by the council as a whole at its Sept. 10 meeting.
The change stems from an Internal Revenue Service mandate that resulted from the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor, which overturned the part of the Defense of Marriage Act stating marriage is between a man and a woman. The mandate requires all retirement plans to recognize same-sex couples if they were married in a state that has legalized gay marriage.
The change in the retirement plan passed quickly and without comment from any members of the council. After the meeting, Mayor Steve Tumlin wouldn’t talk about the issue of same-sex marriage
because he said it was unrelated to the amendment.
“I have no opinion,” Tumlin said. “That amendment had only one thing to do — the legality of whether somebody was going to be subject (to retirement benefits).”
Many City Council members said they didn’t agree with same-sex marriage but knew they had to follow the law.
Councilman Johnny Walker said he didn’t think it was an overreach of the federal government to mandate cities to incorporate benefits for same-sex couples into their retirement plans.
“(The federal government) is not trying to force it,” Walker said. “I’m happy to abide by the law.”
Councilman Grif Chalfant said he thinks activists are putting pressure on the federal government.
“I think the gay rights organizations are pushing it through the federal government,” Chalfant said. “I think they’ve just put that into all the federal programs.”
Chalfant said the city won’t look to further incorporate equal benefits for same-sex and heterosexual couples in the near future.
“It’s mandated by the state not to talk about it before the state does,” Chalfant said.
If the city does not comply with the mandate from the IRS, it will be in violation of federal law, said Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association.
Henderson said the city of Marietta is the last city in Cobb County to make the revision to its code to be in compliance, which requires a change to definition of the word spouse.
Henderson said the mandate implies if a woman working at City Hall is setting aside money in a retirement fund but suddenly dies, she can leave the money in the fund to her female partner if the two were legally married in a state allowing same-sex marriage.
The GMA handles the retirement payout plans for 282 of the 521 cities in Georgia that are members of the organization, said Henderson. The GMA handles the retirement plans of the five other cities in Cobb, Henderson said.
The GMA changed its retirement policy in September 2013 to include a second definition of the word spouse that includes those legally married to a partner of the same sex, but only in cases where federal taxes are involved.
Because the other five cities in Cobb rely on the GMA to handle their retirement plans, those cities are already in compliance with the mandate.
Cobb County will take up changing its code in reaction to the mandate at its Sept. 23 meeting, said AikWah Leow, spokeswoman for the county.
Shannon Barrett, the city’s acting human resources director, said the change to the policy will not affect the way the city gives out its retirement benefits, just who the money goes to in certain cases.
“This is just to be in compliance with the IRS,” Barrett said.