Are Domestic Partner Benefits Legal In Texas?

This coming Thursday Pflugerville ISD will vote on a policy plan to provide health benefits for domestic partners. If the board of trustees approves the plan — Pflugerville could become the first school district in Texas to offer such benefits. But some groups say the policy violates the Texas Constitution.

If the motion passes, Plufgerville ISD will join the cities of Austin, San Antonio and El Paso, along with Dallas County in offering domestic partner benefits for its employees.

But State Senator Dan Patrick has asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to issue an opinion on whether these policies are valid.

Dave Welch leads the Texas Pastor Council, which is also urging Abbott to get involved.

"We felt like it was important that the attorney general weigh in and provide a solid legal opinion on this matter so it clears it up and we don't have to address this kind of city by city and leave each entity out there unsure of what it says."

In 2005, Texas voters passed an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Richard Carlson is a law professor at South Texas College of Law. He says the sticking point for domestic partner benefits may be the portion of the amendment that says no political entity in Texas may create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

"That's a major challenge for an employer in a situation like this. How do you define the relationship so that it's serious enough that you'd want to extend these benefits? You wouldn't necessarily offer these benefits to anybody who just happened to have had a recent date with one of your employees. You'd probably want something like proof of cohabitation."

Even if Attorney General Abbott issues an opinion, it carries little legal weight, although it could discourage other jurisdictions from enacting such policies.

And the entire question may become a moot point depending on the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage.

 

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...