Voters approved policy prohibiting benefits for employees’ same-sex partners in 1994; move underway to hold new vote
The Austin City Council may add a proposition to the May 13 city ballot to repeal a policy prohibiting the city from extending health benefits to the domestic partners both gay and non-gay of city employees.
Council member Brewster McCracken said he is pushing the vote on principle. “This is about correcting something that has been unfair,” he told the Austin American-Statesman.
The Austin City Council voted to offer partner benefits in September 1993, becoming one of the first cities in the nation to do so.
But a group named Concerned Texans, led by the Rev. Charles Bullock, led a petition drive that resulted in the policy being overturned through a public vote nine months later by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.
But last November, when Texans statewide voted 3-to-1 to approve a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, voters in Travis County rejected the amendment, 60 percent to 40 percent. McCracken and other council members believe that vote shows Austinites might be ready to embrace more gay-friendly policies.
Travis County, with Austin as its county seat, was the only county in Texas to vote against the amendment. The county itself already has a policy in place allowing employees to add a spouse or other loved one, including a same-sex partner, a parent or sibling, to a health plan, as long as that person lives in the same home as the employee.
McCracken and Lee Leffingwell, another Austin Council member, said they favor a plan similar to the county’s.
The ballot proposition would amend the city charter, which is legally stronger than an ordinance. The proposition would repeal the existing policy, forcing the council to approve new rules defining what benefits domestic partners could get.
A majority of the City Council would have to approve the move to put the proposition on the ballot in May. Four of the city’s six council members told the American-Statesman they would support some sort of coverage for domestic partners.
Mayor Will Wynn said the issue should be put to a vote. Danny Thomas, the mayor pro tem, said he would not support the proposition because city residents had already decided the issue with the 1994 vote.
Thomas, who is running for mayor against Wynn, is a Baptist preacher who often invokes his religious values.
He was the only Austin Council member to support the gay marriage ban.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 3, 2006