The board of trustees for the city’s Employees’ Retirement Fund brainstormed ideas Tuesday morning about the best approach to make the pension plan equal for LGBT retirees.
The Dallas City Council passed a comprehensive equality resolution last month directing the city manager to evaluate areas in city employment where disparities for LGBT employees exist. Among them, were the pension plans.
Under the current plan, opposite-sex spouses receive lifetime benefits when their spouses die, but same-sex spouses are treated as designees, and their benefits run out after 10 years.
The ERF board spent half an hour discussing the resolution, as well as the state’s constitutional marriage amendment and the Texas Family Code, both of which prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages.
The board also was brought up to speed on the recent ruling by a federal San Antonio judge in February, who declared the state’s marriage amendment unconstitutional in DeLeon v. Perry. The case is now headed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year found Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, requiring the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. But the high court didn’t rule on Section 2, which deals with state government recognition.
The board was presented with three options for moving the issue forward: waiting until the courts issue a final ruling, change the language in the policy for the council and city voters to approve or change the policy under IRS standards.
Gary Lawson, the board’s attorney, said the options to amend the policy to IRS standards isn’t possible, as the regulations aren’t for government pensions. He also said waiting for the courts would take longer than some people want to wait.
He added that the U.S. Supreme Court would likely hear a state marriage case in the next two years and that the issue is of “great interest to the citizens and sitting politicians.”
“It would be terrific if the state Legislature would address this sooner,” he said. “We need to approach this with care. “
Lawson also brought up the risk of lawsuits from people “who disagree with this as matter of philosophy or religion.” He mentioned that the Texas Attorney General’s office could be asked to issue an opinion on the matter, which would side with state law. The AG’s office came out against domestic partner benefits last year, but the decision was not legally binding. Some governmental agencies then amended their healthcare plans to include a plus-one option.
The option of changing the definition of a beneficiary was then brought up by board members. Lawson suggested that could help prevent redefining a spouse or marriage, but he cautioned that things like not having the option of divorcing in the state needed to be considered. The Texas Supreme Court heard two same-sex divorces cases last fall, but justices have yet to release their ruling.
Councilwoman Carolyn Davis, who is one of the seven board members, then requested to go into closed session to discuss legal concerns. After 30 minutes in closed session, the board returned with several options to explore in the coming months. Those include a joint venture with the city to request an opinion from the AG, study new definitions for beneficiary, develop a study for property rights in the state, receive a definition of the IRS regulations, examine increased liability from legal challenges and consider the cost and efficiency of putting the issue to Dallas voters.
John Jenkins, the board’s vice chair, said he wants staff to examine all the possible options for changing the policy to be more inclusive, which, based on the resolution, city staff and council members want to see happen.
“I just want us to look at all the options to keep this process moving forward,” Jenkins said. “I know there are some legal hurdles. … It’s obvious that this is important that we extend these rights to the lesbian and gay community.”