Attorney General Greg Abbott’s opinion [last] week, while not binding, is the latest of several challenges to same-sex benefits across the country that so far have had mixed results in the courts and prompted changes after officials in other states took action. In Texas, local governments from El Paso to San Antonio and north to Dallas County have their legal departments reviewing their benefits plans but don’t appear ready to budge yet – noting that their policies don’t address issues such as marriage or gender.
“It’s a benefits package that top companies in the area offer to their employees,” said Clay Jenkins, the top administrative official for Dallas County, which has a lesbian sheriff. “It is not only the right thing to do but also allows us to attract top talent so we can continue to have success.”
The cities of Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth already offer some benefits to domestic partners, while Pflugerville, outside Austin, became the state’s first school district to extend similar benefits.
“If our policy violates the law, we’ll change it. But I’d conclude we are not doing that,” said Samuel T. Biscoe, Travis County’s top administrative official. “Legally, we are in good shape.”
Fort Worth spokesman Bill Begley said the city does not anticipate any problems to come from Abbott’s opinion. “Our domestic partner policy does not say anything about marriage or gender.”
See here for the background. As noted, Abbott’s opinion is not legally binding, it’s his opinion as to how a judge would rule. Someone will have to sue in order to get a result that does have the force of law. At least one such lawsuit is in the works in El Paso, by one of the leading homophobes there. Of course, it’s possible that by the time this gets to the point of a legal decision here we may have an opinion from the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of DOMA, and who knows how that could scramble things. This ain’t over yet, not by a longshot.