Tuesday, October 4, 2011

El Paso has inclusive definition of domestic partners; Mayor and council members face recall

I've got a special connection to El Paso, given that my partner and I have a residence across the New Mexico border in Las Cruces. El Paso is our local airport. It's also a city hard hit by the Mexican drug wars across the border in Juarez, something we were following as a local story for years before the national press picked up on it.

Well El Paso has been in the news for another reason. The city provided health benefits to the domestic partners of its employees, which led to a successful referendum to repeal them, which the City Council then rejected. Now El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values is trying to recall the mayor and two council members. The New York Times website covered the dispute here.

The article reports that 150 city employees were told they would lose benefits. "19 were in domestic partnerships, including 2 who are gay," the article states. I was confused about who actually the recipients were, so I located the form that employees must fill out.

The El Paso definition allows two people who have lived together for six months and plan to do so indefinitely, who are not related to a degree that would ban marriage between them, who are not married and have not had a different domestic partner within the last six months, and who can produce two documents indicating interdependency, to register as domestic partners. The article suggested some of the domestic partners were "foster children, retirees and disabled relatives cared for by city employees." I guess the relatives were distant enough that they could not marry each other, since that's a requirement.

Children of the domestic partner, if primarily dependent on the employee for support, can also be covered.

This kind of inclusive definition helps so many people. I'm curious about the vast majority of relationships. Even if such a small number are same-sex couples, that does not stop right wing groups from denouncing the effort as they have in El Paso. I do think the more inclusive definition is designed to keep the issue from being solely a gay issue, but in truth it is more than a gay issue. When an employee lives in an interdependent relationship s/he should be able to assure the health of the person whose life is so bound up with his/hers. A program like that in El Paso is better than one that extends benefits to only married couples and insists that same-sex couples marry (or enter civil unions) to be included. And it's better than a program that makes different-sex couples marry and covers same-sex couples who say they would marry if they could (like the Ninth Circuit Collins v. Brewer case I've written about (now known as Diaz v. Brewer)...decided in favor of the plaintiffs but now pending a request for en banc review.)

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