Building a State of Equality in Texas
April 30, 2013
Yesterday's opinion issued by Attorney General Greg Abbott on employee benefit programs is a roadmap forward.
Attorney General opinions do not carry the weight of law. They are advice from the state's top lawyer. And while Attorney General Abbott opined on certain eligibility requirements of employee benefit programs that are not acceptable, he also provided very clear guidance that political subdivisions may provide health benefits to unmarried household members if the eligibility criteria are properly structured.
Indeed, the AG's opinion specifically incorporates the 2005 testimony of Representative Warren Chisum, the author of the constitutional amendment, on his legislative intent:
"This amendment to the Constitution would not negate or set aside any contract that an employer wanted to make with his employee....It does not change what a city might do. It just says that they won't recognize anything that creates the same legal status identical to or similar to marriage. It does not stop them from providing health benefits to same-sex partners. It is not intended to do that."
So, what does this mean?
It means cities, counties, and school districts seeking to remain competitive with private business can offer employee benefit programs that provide health and other benefits to unmarried household members if the eligibility criteria are properly structured.
However, eligibility should not use the term "domestic partner", or be based upon proving the existence of a "domestic partnership", or use criteria usually associated with marriage (like current marital status, or related by a certain degree of consanguinity).
It means political subdivisions can offer employee benefit programs to unmarried household members if their eligibility criteria don't look like marriage, or create something that resembles marriage.
So, to the cities, counties, and school districts that currently offer benefits to unmarried household members, and to those considering it: Read the Roadmap. Then Move Forward.
Equality Texas advocates and lobbies for the elimination of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
Equality Texas Foundation educates and engages the public about policies and their effect on Texans of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions.
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