AG: Domestic Partner Benefits Violate Constitution

Sen. Dan Patrick R-Houston, listens to Attorney General Greg Abbott during a senate finance committee hearing on February 5, 2013
Sen. Dan Patrick R-Houston, listens to Attorney General Greg Abbott during a senate finance committee hearing on February 5, 2013

The state Constitution prohibits government entities from recognizing domestic partnerships and offering insurance benefits to those couples, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote in an opinion on Monday.  

In the nonbinding opinion, Abbott determined that local jurisdictions that offer such benefits “have created and recognized something” — domestic partnerships — “not established by Texas law.” 

“A court is likely to conclude that the domestic partnership legal status about which you inquire is ‘similar to marriage’ and therefore barred” by the state Constitution, he wrote. 

The opinion was a response to a question asked by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who had raised concerns about the Pflugerville school district, as well as the cities of El Paso, Austin and Fort Worth, extending such benefits to domestic partners.  

“The voters of the state of Texas decided overwhelmingly that marriage is between one man and one woman in 2005,” Patrick said in a statement responding to Abbott's opinion. “This opinion clearly outlines that cities, counties and school districts cannot subvert the will of Texans.”

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns released a statement saying he was disappointed in Abbott, but "not surprised that once again he is more interested in dividing Texans for political gain than bringing them together to make Texas stronger." 

"Here in Fort Worth we value every citizen," Burns said, "which makes every family stronger." 

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for the advocacy group Equality Texas, said a closer reading of the opinion indicates that other members of an employee's household can receive benefits so long as the requirements "aren't substantially similar to marriage" — also known as "plus 1" benefits.

"As long as the benefit is structured where other adult household members who are financially interdependent with the employee are eligible, that's permissible," he said.  

House Bill 1568 — Muenster Republican Rep. Drew Springer's bill to revoke the accreditation and withhold funding from Texas school districts that allow employees to add a domestic partner to their health care plan — has made it through a House committee and is awaiting a vote in the full chamber. 

Williams said the committee substitute of the bill is even stronger, and "binds the education commissioner to immediately decertify and refuse future funding for any school district found … to take any action in conflict with the state Constitution." 

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