EPFE organizer and attorney Lyda Ness-Garcia said Brown's request to be a consultant for the city when it came time to defend the lawsuit bothered her. "He's not a lawyer, he can't practice law, and it's actually illegal for him to practice law so if mr brown wants to continue entering the law arena, then he needs to go out and get a law degree." she said.
El Paso For Equality's undertaking is an ambitious one, considering their time constraints , but the group has had a strong support from the community. To put a citizens referendum on the May ballot, petitioners need to gather the more than 15-hundred signatures of registered city voters. The city clerk would then take 30 working days to verify those signatures. After that, the citizens' proposal goes to city council - where it runs the risk of being rejected. If rejected, petitioners would have to get another 15-hundred signatures. All of that needs to be done by February.
Ness-Garcia, on Tuesday said her group had gathered about 2-thousand signatures, so that they'll have more than enough in case some can't be authenticated by the city clerk.
Brown, who has been the most vocal pastor who mobilized the movement to take away the health insurance of gay and unmarried partners of city employees, has another solution: to change the ordinance so that it reads "no one would lose benefits except unmarried domestic partners", Brown said.
City council has been unwilling to do that.
"What would be terrible is to start to carve out certain groups and leave for example the gay and lesbian partners of city employees to fend for themselves, who've been receiving city employees for the last year who we don't know what their pre-existing conditions...this way we're all in the same boat", Representative Beto O'Rourke said earlier this month in a city council meeting.
There is yet another solution. City Council is still considering bringing the issue to the voters again in May. This time though, it would be the city's attorneys who would draft the ordinance, so that it would be clear that it was meant to take away the health insurance of gay and unwed partners of city employees.
All of these options depend on the outcome of the current lawsuit.
The ordinance put on the ballot in November by the religious group gave the voters a choice to endorse 'traditional family values' by having the city only provide health benefits for 'city employees, their legal spouses and dependent children'.
Representatives from El Paso for Equality said that people have constantly reported to them that they meant to vote for the benefits, when they actually voted against them. "These are intelligent people, i have PHDs, graduate students, who say 'I read it three times and I'm not sure I voted the right way", said Ness-Garcia. Brown maintains his groups purpose was clear from the beginning.
City Council initially voted to extend the benefits to domestic partners in August 2009. 19 employees signed up for those benefits, at a cost to the city of about $28,000 as of this fall. To put the citizens referendum started by the religious group on the ballot, the city had to pay $130,000.