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Contractors doing business with the city of Long Beach soon will have to provide benefits to domestic partners in the same way they do spouses.

Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously approved an Equal Benefits Ordinance to bring about that change in contractor rules.

“It is, in my opinion, and that of the (lesbian, gay and transgendered) community, a pretty historic day,” First District Councilman Robert Garcia said.

That sentiment was echoed by speakers who thanked the city for being in the forefront of providing rights to partners in lesbian or gay relationships.

Garcia brought the issue forward last July, when it was sent to a council committee to flesh out the details. The finished product came back to the council this week.

The plan phases in the benefit requirements. For the first year of the ordinance, the regulations would only apply to contracts worth more than $100,000. After that year, or maybe even earlier, the City Manager would report back to the council on how the project has gone.

If the council approves it, in subsequent years businesses with contracts as low as $25,000 would have to provide the benefits. In addition, any business that leases city property and generates more than $350,000 in annual revenue would also have to provide equal benefits. (It would be put in place only on new leases or when current leases are renewed.)

There are exceptions in place for nonprofits or in specific hardship cases.

This ordinance is expected to impact 87 companies when it is fully up and running in two years, the council was told.

In the first year, only a handful of businesses will fit the criteria, and many offer benefits to partners, the council was told.

The ordinance had the backing of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.

“The Chamber is a strong supporter of equality and is proud to represent a business community in the most diverse urban city in America,” said Lori Lofstrom, chair of the Chamber Board of Directors, in a released statement. “The idea of an equal benefits ordinance is commendable based on our collective desire to maintain our standing as a diverse city. Also, the implementation of such an ordinance must take into consideration the impact, both positive and negative, to all who will be affected by this law.”

Previously, there had been some concern that this program would cost the city money — the costs of any domestic partner benefits would mean more expensive contract bids to the city.

But council members said this was the right thing to do in voting to approve it.

Run with permission from Gazette Newspapers