EL PASO — Opponents of the city’s plan to offer domestic partner benefits to municipal employees may seek a ballot measure to try to overturn the decision.
On Thursday, July 30, the El Paso City Council voted 6-1 to offer health benefits to the unmarried partners of employees, both gay and straight. El Paso would become the third city in Texas to offer DP benefits, joining Dallas and Austin.
But on Tuesday, Aug. 4, about 25 people reportedly attended a council meeting to protest the decision, which still must be finalized as part of the budget later this month.
"If our government starts passing laws that are against the guidelines in the Bible, it starts to contaminate the spiritual water of our people," Barney Field of El Paso for Jesus told the council, according to ABC Channel 7. "What does God say about homosexuality? He says it is an abomination."
According to The El Paso Times, Field also told the council that offering DP benefits is the equivalent of "slapping God in the face."
"Let this be a vote for God, not sin," he said.
After the protesters spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, with many of them quoting the Bible, one council member reportedly met with them outside and defended the decision to offer DP benefits.
"They have no more choice to be gay than I have in having brown hair or a funny nose," City Rep. Beto O’Rourke told the protesters, according to The El Paso Times.
The Times reported that opponents of the plan to offer DP benefits could gather enough signatures to petition the council to overturn the decision. If the council were to reject the request, the opponents could then gather signatures to place the item on the ballot in the next general election.
The city’s budget director said about 45 of 6,100 employees would be eligible for the benefits, which would take effect in January and cost $128,000 to $287,000 annually, the Times reported last week. The only member of the City Council to vote against the measure, Rep. Carl L. Robinson, cited the bad economy.
To qualify for the benefits, couples must have lived together for at least six months and show proof of their relationship.
The decision by the City Council to offer DP benefits came on the heels of a controversial incident June 29 in which a group of five gay men claimed they were kicked out of Chico’s Tacos restaurant after two of them kissed.
The men claimed security guards at the restaurant used anti-gay slurs and El Paso police officers threatened to charge them under Texas’ sodomy statute, which was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003.
El Paso also has a city ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 7, 2009.