Dallas City Council members Lee Kleinman and Carolyn Davis, who sit on the city employee pension board, led the fight for equal pension benefits for the city’s LGBT employees at a meeting held today (Feb. 10).
John Jenkins, a pension board member who works for Park and Recreation, said, “Some action needs to be taken today,” also arguing for equal benefits.
Former city Councilman Chris Luna appeared at the meeting to explain the IRS ruling that says pensions must be in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v Windsor to remain tax exempt. That means offering equal benefits to same-sex married couples, no matter where they live as long as they were married in a marriage equality state, Luna said.
The pension board’s attorney, Gary Lawson, however, advised that the Windsor decision and the subsequent IRS ruling don’t apply to the city’s pension. He also argued state law doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage — but didn’t explain in open session why state law that has been found unconstitutional trumps federal law or IRS regulations directed at federally chartered pensions.
But Jenkins said other attorneys have advised him differently.
“If you’re African-American, the law has been on the wrong side of history plenty of times,” Jenkins said.
While the board discussed how they would eventually have same-sex couples prove their marriages by presenting their marriage licenses, the pension fund already offers benefits to opposite-sex couples who are not married but sign a common-law marriage document.
The compromise unanimously approved today asks the city attorney for a written opinion and the IRS for an expedited ruling on the Dallas pension. Pending a favorable opinion by the city attorney, benefits will then be offered to same-sex couples. Also in the resolution is the stipulation that should the Supreme Court rule against marriage equality and uphold the Texas ban on same-sex marriage, an attempt will be made to recoup any benefits given to same-sex couples.
The city’s police and fire pension board is having similar problems offering its LGBT employees equal pension benefits and meets later this week.