Attorney General Greg Abbott, in an ironic twist of timing, has struck down the ability of cities, counties and school districts to offer domestic partner benefits.
By almost any measure, today was a landmark day for the GLBT community, with all eyes focused on basketball player Jason Collins, the first and only gay working professional athlete in any major sport. However, that announcement, hailed by many in the NBA community, is being bookended in Texas with Abbott's decision that benefits cannot be created since the state cannot create a legal status identical or similar to marriage.
The opinion is non-binding, but undoubtedly pleasurable to the rightwing crowd.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, requested the decision. In his November letter, Patrick noted that Texas voters went to the polls back in 2005 to specifically define marriage as a state between one man and one woman.
"Unfortunately, the plain language and clear legislative intent is either being ignored by a growing number of local governmental entities or these entities don't believe this Texas Constitutional provision applies to their decisions," Patrick wrote.
According to Abbott's decision, the state constitution does not prohibit jurisdictions from extending benefits to people who are outside of marriage. It does, however, prohibit any jurisdiction in the state from creating or recognizing a status that is identical or similar to marriage.
The decision hits Travis County hardest, where the city and county, as well as the Austin and Pflugerville school districts, have extended benefits to same-sex partners as well as heterosexual couples that may choose to live together without marriage. Other jurisdictions extending benefits included the cities of El Paso, San Antonio and Fort Worth, as well as Dallas and El Paso counties.
Already, bills were moving through the Texas legislature to strip health care dollars from school districts and other jurisdictions extending domestic partner benefits. Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, argued that school districts extending benefits to same sex and domestic partners would put an excessive burden on financial resources. His Democratic colleagues were less than supportive.
"If we outlawed marriage, we could save a ton of money," Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, retorted.