What’s Brewing: Judge orders El Paso to rescind DP benefits; ruling today in Nikki Araguz case

Posted on 24 May 2011 at 8:12am
dead firefighter's transgender wife
Nikki Araguz

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The partners of gay city employees in El Paso — along with retired municipal workers and elected officials — are slated to lose their health insurance Aug. 1 under a decision handed down by a federal judge on Friday. U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo’s ruling upholds a ballot measure approved by El Paso voters in November calling for the city to support “traditional family values” by limiting health benefits to current city employees, their legal spouses and their dependent children. The ballot measure, sponsored by conservative religious groups, was aimed at rescinding domestic partner benefits for gay employees, which the City Council approved in 2009. However, because the measure was so vaguely worded, it also threatened benefits for retirees and elected officials. Affected parties filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the ballot measure violated their right to equal protection as well as their contract with the city’s insurance company, but Montalvo ruled against them. “This is an example of how direct democracy can have unexpected consequences,” Montalvo wrote. Read Montalvo’s full ruling by going here. Montalvo ordered the benefits to cease on Aug. 1, to give the affected parties time to purchase other health insurance. The ruling won’t apply to retired police officers and firefighters until the judge determines whether it would violate their collective bargaining agreement.

2. A state district judge in Wharton, Texas, is expected to rule this morning in the case of transgender widow Nikki Araguz, who’s fighting to receive death benefits from her husband, a volunteer firefighter killed in the line of duty last  year. Meghan Stabler, a transgender board member for the Human Rights Campaign who’s been monitoring the Araguz case, said the following in an email late Monday: “We just received word this evening that Wharton Judge Randy Clapp will issue summary ruling Tuesday morning. On hearing this news Nikki commented that she was, ‘now reliving those traumatic first hours following her husband firefighter Captain Thomas Araguz’s death.’ She is hoping and praying for a positive ruling in her favor so she can finally grieve in peace. Will pass on more details when I can. Obviously Nikki is emotionally distraught right now and we are trying to calm her.” Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates.

3. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill Monday overturning Nashville’s nondiscrimination ordinance, which bars city contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. Incidentally, Dallas has had a similar ordinance since 2002, but apparently it hasn’t been enforced because city officials and LGBT advocates weren’t aware of it until recently.

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