One of the main points Attorney General Abbott made in yesterday’s opinion is that the 2005 amendment against gay marriage wasn’t designed to prohibit same-sex couples from receiving benefits. It’s just that those benefits cannot be based on anything called a “domestic partnership”, or that resembles a marriage.
Chuck Smith is the Executive Director of Equality Texas. He says cities, counties, and school boards can easily cover their employees’ same-sex partners by using what’s called a “plus-one” benefit plan.
“It doesn’t look like a marriage. It’s not based on something that looks like marital status. It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship. It just has to be someone that shares a household and shares inter-dependence and financial obligations with an employee.”
Smith says Abbott’s letter provides some much-needed clarity to local governments. And that could prompt more governments to adopt partner benefits, as long as there’s the political will.
“It’s unfortunate that political will is a factor in it. Because, mostly, this is an economic decision, based upon trying to be competitive for the best talent in the marketplace.”
Right now, no public universities in Texas offer domestic partner benefits. There is a bill pending that would provide those benefits at UT and A&M.
Smith says the language in both the Senate and the House versions complies with Abbott’s opinion. Also, only a handful of cities, including San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth offer domestic partner benefits. Houston is not among them.
Below is State Attorney General Greg Abbott’s opinion regarding benefits to same-sex partners as provided by the office: