Judge Upholds Law Taking Domestic Benefits Away From Partners Of City Workers, Others

Ordinance Approved By Voters Will Stand

POSTED: 04:24 PM MDT Jun 25, 2012    UPDATED: 11:15 AM MDT May 24, 2011 
EL PASO, Texas -

The ordinance forcing the city of El Paso to "uphold traditional family values" will stand, and elected officials, retirees, affiliated service contractors, domestic partners of employees and certain dependent children will be left out, ruled a federal judge.

"This is an example of how direct democracy can have unexpected consequences," wrote Federal Judge Frank Montalvo quoting James Madison.

The plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit included city employees, domestic partners of city employees, retirees and even elected officials.

They wanted the ordinance struck on two grounds. They alleged it prevented them from obtaining health insurance, thus violating the contract they had with the insurance company, and that they were denied equal protection under the law, meaning, they were singled out for discrimination.

Montalvo ruled the plaintiffs failed to prove both arguments.

"We keep hearing from the critics that the ordinance that the people passed was unconstitutional, well, we now have a federal judge that says this is completely constitutional," Tom Brown said. He is the leader of El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values and was the man behind the movement to deny benefits. "What more does City Council need?"

He concluded that, because the health benefits are paid from the city's funds, the contract to provide health insurance is between the city and Aetna, the plan administrator, and not between Aetna and the plaintiffs.

As for the equal protection argument, Montalvo agreed that the intent of People for Traditional Family Values, the group that drafted the ordinance, was to "create a classification of people who would be made ineligible for health benefits: domestic partners."

However, once voters approved the ordinance 55 to 45 percent during the November 2010 elections, the city "interpreted the statute to remove health benefit coverage to retirees, elected officials, affiliated service contractors, domestic partners of employees, and certain dependent children, all of whom were previously covered," wrote Montalvo.

People for Traditional Family Values argued in court documents that, despite their original intent, it would be impossible to know why each voter cast a ballot in favor of the ordinance -- some may have done it to endorse traditional family values and others to save taxpayer money.

"Even if the ordinance is unfair to some groups, it's enforceable," Mayor John Cook said. "I think that's probably what he had to look at. The letter of the law, not the spirit of what the ordinance was supposed to be."

In his order, Montalvo said voters' intent could not be defined, so he looked to the Texas Local Government Code to interpret what "employee" means. Using that guide, "the ordinance's language does not provide benefits to retirees or elected officials," concluded the judge.

Cook said he would hold a news conference about the decision, as soon as the city's legal team finishes reviewing the ruling. Related Link:Link:Read Judge Montalvo's City Domestic Partner Benefits Ruling

ABC-7 reporter Marissa Monroy contributed to this report.