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Gay rights supporters laud new Coke policy 

Local gay and lesbian activists are cheering a decision by the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company to offer domestic partner benefits to its employees. The decision means that long-term live-in companions of employees will be able to enjoy the same sorts of benefits as the spouses of married employees. "The Coca-Cola Company has provided world-class leadership ... by taking this historic action," says Harry Knox, executive director of the Georgia Equality Project, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens. "The company's leadership recognizes that domestic partner benefits are simply equal pay for equal work."

Coca-Cola's decision preceded a June 25 call by GEP for nine other Georgia companies with self-insured health-care plans -- Delta Airlines, BellSouth, Gulf Stream Aerospace, Wachovia, Georgia Pacific, Home Depot, Shaw Industries, United Parcel Service and Atlanta Gas Light -- to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees.

"We fully intend to have these companies provide domestic partner benefits, and soon," says Knox. "Their past decisions not to offer these benefits do not even make competitive sense because their competitors offer them while they do not."

Knox points to polls showing public support for such benefits as another factor companies should consider.

"With two-thirds of Georgians saying that gay employees should not be subject to job discrimination, the problem is not customer or shareholder perceptions," he says. "The problem starts at the top of these nine companies."

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