VICTORY: Appeals court blocks recall of El Paso officials who voted in favor of DP benefits

Friday's ruling was a major setback for anti-gay Pastor Tom Brown, who may also face criminal charges.

In a victory for supporters of LGBT equality, a Texas appeals court has rejected an effort to recall El Paso Mayor John Cook and two other council members over their support of domestic partner benefits for unmarried city employees.

Texas’ 8th Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on Friday that recall organizers, led by anti-gay Pastor Tom Brown, broke the law in gathering petition signatures for the recall election, which had been scheduled for this spring.

After the El Paso City Council first approved DP benefits for gay and straight city workers in 2009, Brown spearheaded a ballot measure that overturned them in 2010. Last year, after the City Council voted to restore DP benefits, Brown’s group launched its recall effort, which was challenged in court by Cook. A county judge initially ruled against Cook, but the appeals court overturned that decision.

The El Paso chapter of PFLAG issued a statement Friday saying: “It is with jubilation that the recall election, supported by Christian bigots, has finally reached the finish line. The judges clearly saw that this attempt was purely done out of hatred, disguised as the word of God.”

Brown and others may also face criminal charges based on the appeals court’s ruling, which found that his Word of Life Church violated a statute prohibiting corporate political contributions to recall elections. The court also found that Brown’s group, El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values, illegally raised money in support of the recall when it wasn’t registered as a political action committee.

Brown said recall organizers will appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, but an attorney for Mayor Cook believes it’s highly unlikely the high court would take the case. Cook, who cast the deciding vote in favor of restoring DP benefits last year, reportedly has spent $225,000 on his lawsuit seeking to block the recall. The mayor said he now plans to seek monetary damages against Brown’s group.

—  John Wright

The New York Times on El Paso benefits fight

Pastor Tom Brown

The New York Times on Sunday took a look at the battle over domestic partner benefits in El Paso. The one thing about the story that stood out to me — in addition to some of the extreme anti-gay rhetoric — was this passage:

While some groups have organized in support of the three officials, the city’s gay community has been noticeably quiet.

Tony Ramos, a retired Army sergeant who works on a statewide H.I.V. and AIDS prevention program, said the gay community was taking a wait-and-see attitude. “For most of us here,” Mr. Ramos said, “being gay is not an issue.”

But he predicted that gay El Pasoans would band together to fight for those who had supported them.

“People are tired and they are fed up,” Mr. Ramos said. “And they do not appreciate El Paso being painted as such a backwards type of city.”

Let’s hope Ramos is right, and the LGBT community in El Paso does stand up. Furthermore, let’s hope the LGBT community around the state and across the nation stands up behind it.

The story notes that of the 19 El Paso employees who signed up for DP benefits, only two are gay. But make no mistake — anti-gay hatred was behind the 2010 ballot measure that overturned DP benefits, just as it is behind the effort to recall the city officials who voted to reinstate them.

National LGBT groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force raise a lot of money out of Texas. This seems like one of those times when they need to put some back in.

—  John Wright

Anti-gay El Paso pastor faces IRS complaint for using tax-exempt church to fight DP benefits

Pastor Tom Brown of Word of Life Church was the driving force behind a ballot measure to repeal DP benefits in El Paso.

An anti-gay El Paso pastor is accused of illegally using his tax-emempt church to advocate political causes. The Rev. Tom Brown of Word of Life Church, who spearheaded last year’s ballot initiative rescinding domestic partner benefits for city employees, has now launched a petition to  recall council members who voted to restore DP benefits this June. The El Paso Times reports that Brown announced the recall petitions to his congregation last month and has written in support of them on his Tom Brown Ministries website, prompting a complaint to the IRS from Americans United for Separateion of Chruch and State:

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said his group files such complaints against about “eight or 10″ tax-exempt groups nationwide each election cycle.

His group has received several complaints about Brown’s activities from El Paso residents.

“This seems so over-the-top, so brazen an attempt to involve himself in a partisan political campaign,” Lynn said, explaining his group’s reason for filing the complaint.

When Brown’s wife ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in May on an anti-DP benefits platform, she announced her campaign from the pulpit of the church and asked people to meet her in the vestibule if they wanted to volunteer. But it’s unclear if anyone filed a complaint about that incident. Brown denies all of the allegations and says the IRS complaint amounts to “harassment and persecution of anti-religious people against people of faith.”

In related news, the El Paso City Council voted Tuesday to hold a charter election in November 2012. One council member has proposed an anti-discrimination charter amendment that would prohibit the city from denying DP benefits to gay and lesbian employees.

The council, which initially approved DP benefits in 2009, voted to reinstate them last month after a federal judge upheld the ballot initiative rescinding them.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Texas clings to ‘homosexual conduct’ law as gay marriage goes mainstream

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Mainstream media outlets around Texas finally noticed this weekend that eight years after it was declared unconstitutional, Texas’ “homosexual conduct” law is still on the books. And guess what, it’s going to remain on the books: “In this particular session, I’d be hesitant to do any changing,” said Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, adding that the law probably “better reflects the views of a lot of citizens” as it is. Read our previous post here.

2. In El Paso, where police recently threatened to enforce the homosexual conduct law, conservatives are fed up with the city’s progressive tilt: What some might call the council’s “progressive” agenda, Pastor Tom Brown calls “radical leftist.” Brown is part of a group that recruited a slate of four candidates — including his wife, Sonia Brown — to run for the City Council. The immediate cause of the group’s creation was its opposition to health benefits for the gay and unmarried partners of city employees. But Brown said it also is concerned with what he sees as government “intrusion.” “We’re getting into where government is conducting our private lives,” Brown said.

3. Meanwhile, in other parts of the U.S., same-sex marriage is no longer such a divisive political issue, according to The Boston Globe. And even one Southern Baptist leader says it’s time to prepare for defeat: “I think it’s clear that something like same-sex marriage is going to become normalized, legalized, and recognized in the culture,’’ said evangelical leader Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in radio remarks after Obama announced he would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. “It’s time for Christians to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with that.’’

—  John Wright

Now that he’s screwed 200 out of health benefits, El Paso bigot Tom Brown wants to be left alone

Pastor Tom Brown

Pastor Tom Brown robbed hundreds of people of health insurance when he spearheaded a ballot measure that overturned domestic partner benefits for El Paso city employees. But now Brown wants the LGBT community and its supporters to just forget about it and stop protesting outside his Word of Life Church. KFOX Channel 8 reports:

After the council passed the ordinance, Pastor Tom Brown quickly gained enough signatures to send the decision of whether or not domestic partners should get health care benefits to the voters and the majority sided with him.

“Let’s all move on,” said Brown.

The group of protesters Tuesday, mostly composed of radio talk show hosts, said that is not going to happen.

“Don’t you think it’s a little late; the election’s over with,” said Brown.

The group said it’s never too late and this is just the beginning of what they call “Love” rallies.

“To me that’s not love when you mock other peoples’ lives,” said Brown.

The pastor said he hopes the protesters pick a better and more respectful location next time.

“This is a place where people have their particular views, and they shouldn’t be put to ridicule because a particular church doesn’t correspond to the public view,” said Brown.

Even The Wall Street Journal has taken notice of the DP benefits controversy in El Paso. The WSJ story posted Monday says the ballot initiative could eventually threaten health benefits for up to 6,000 people,, including retirees, because it was so vaguely worded. You see, Brown’s group couldn’t find an attorney to work on the initiative, so they just wrote it themselves. Now, the city’s labor unions are preparing a lawsuit, and the City Council is looking at ways to overturn the initiative:

The pastor, Tom Brown, is threatening to fight officials if they attempt to reinstate the benefits for gay partners. He has proposed another ballot initiative which would strip the city council of its power to amend or rescind voter-approved measures.

“I’m feeling a call from God to get more involved in our government,” Mr. Brown said in an interview.


—  John Wright