Texas Can’t Give Gay Couples Benefits, AG Says

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Governments and school districts and Texas cannot offer health benefits to gay couples or unmarried straight couples, the state attorney general said.
     Attorney General Greg Abbott issued the opinion Monday after state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, asked him whether the Texas Constitution allowed such benefits. State voters approved changes to the constitution in 2005 that define marriage as being only between one man and one woman.
     Dallas County and several other counties, cities and school districts in Texas have since extended health benefits to domestic partners.
     Abbott said state law uses the term “domestic partnership” only to describe a type of business entity. The constitution provision “explicitly prohibits” local government from creating or recognizing a legal status that is identical or similar to marriage between a man and woman, according to his opinion.
     “The domestic partnerships about which you inquire are entirely a creation of the relevant political subdivisions,” Abbott wrote. “By creating domestic partnerships and offering health benefits based on them, the political subdivisions have created and recognized something not established by Texas law.”
     Marriage is usually associated with the criteria each political subdivision laid out for establishing a domestic partnership, the attorney general added.
     “Every political subdivision that you reference requires that applicants for domestic partnership status attest that prior undissolved marriages, consanguinity, and age would not operate to preclude them from marrying under state law,” the opinion states.
     Thus, the domestic partnership criteria established by these political subdivisions have various characteristics in common with the criteria for marriage, and the domestic partnership status resembles marriage in these respects, Abbott said.
     Abbott declined to give an opinion on several suits concerning “defense of marriage” laws from other states before the U.S. Supreme Court. He says the court’s decision could “call into question the enforceability” of Texas’ gay marriage ban under the U.S. Constitution.
     “The Supreme Court heard arguments in these cases on March 26 adn 27, 2013 and will likely render a decision before the court’s current term ends in June of this year,” Abbott writes. “Those cases involve issues of federal constitutional law that are beyond the scope of [Patrick’s] question about the meaning of the Texas Constitution.”
     In October, Dallas County Commissioners approved a subsidy for the purchase or continuation of private medical insurance for any county employee’s domestic partner and children.
     The subsidy is offered to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples as long as they provide proof that they have lived together for at least six months.
     Commissioners John Wiley Price and Elba Garcia and County Judge Clay Jenkins – all Democrats – approved the measure. Republican Commissioners Maurine Dickey and Mike Cantrell voted against the measure.

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