Attorney General Opinion: Domestic Partner Benefits

On April 29, the Texas attorney general issued an opinion – GA-1003 – concluding that it is unconstitutional for cites and other political subdivisions to offer “domestic partner” benefits to their employees.  A number of cities in Texas offer these health benefits.  Typically, the coverage is available to the partner of an employee if the employee and partner complete an affidavit regarding the status of their relationship, and could include benefits such as medical, dental, vision, life insurance, and/or childcare services.

According to Senator Dan Patrick’s request for the opinion, it is “widely accepted” that a 2005 amendment to the Texas Constitution prohibits “legal recognition of and government benefits based on any other relationships ‘similar to marriage’ such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.”   The amendment was H.J.R. 6, which Senator Patrick refers to as “the Texas Marriage Amendment.” It provides as follows:

(a)  Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.

(b)  This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

The request went on to state that “the plain language and clear legislative intent is either being ignored by a growing number of local government entities or these entities don’t believe this Texas Constitutional provision applies to their decisions.” 

The attorney general concluded that political subdivisions may not offer such benefits:

Article I, section 32 of the Texas Constitution prohibits political subdivisions from creating a legal status of domestic partnership and recognizing that status by offering public benefits based upon it.

Cities affected by the opinion should consult with local legal counsel to decide whether and how to proceed.

TML member cities may use the material herein for any purpose. No other person or entity may reproduce, duplicate, or distribute any part of this document without the written authorization of the Texas Municipal League.

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