Even before marriage equality came to Texas, Dallas’ two public pension funds — Dallas Employee Retirement Fund and Dallas Police and Fire Pension — extended benefits to same-sex couples.
The Employee Retirement Fund didn’t have as hard a time extending the benefits as the Police and Fire Pension board did.
ERF even discussed some issues like common-law marriage and that issue arose after the marriage equality decision.
For a spouse to qualify for pension benefits, a couple had to be married by the employee’s retirement date. At least one retired employee qualified for benefits for her spouse, but another couple didn’t because they had never legally married in another state.
So that couple filed a common-law married declaration in Tarrant County, declaring they had presented themselves as a married couple for 20 years. The ERF accepted that document, just as they would have for an opposite-sex couple.
The Police and Fire Pension board wasn’t as accommodating. They debated the issue monthly for six months. Lesbian police officers attended the meetings, including Monica Cordova who brought her young son, telling the board she wanted to know he’d be taken care of if she’s killed in the line of duty. Another asked board members to suspend their wives’ benefits while they debated her wife’s benefits.
The board finally relented. But over the past few weeks, it was revealed that the board’s attorney investigated Councilman Scott Griggs who sits on the board and insisted on equal treatment for LGBT cops and fire fighters.
And Cordova was named Dallas Police Officer of the Year for her part in establishing equal benefits for all officers.
Fort Worth beat Dallas to the punch, however, when it announced that beginning Feb. 1 the city would extend spousal benefits to the legal same-sex spouses of city employees.
And the state of Texas was ready for marriage equality — at least at the state’s pension funds.
Within a week of the Obergefell decision, Texas Municipal Retirement System, the Employee Retirement System of Texas and the Teacher Retirement System were registering same-sex spouses for pension benefits.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 1, 2016.