Should employers offer benefits for same-sex domestic partners?
DALLAS –– DART’s board of directors on Tuesday approved a plan that extends health benefits for an employee's same-sex domestic partner, marking the end of more than a year's worth of debates on whether to grant them.
The plan, which was approved by a vote of 10-3, extends benefits to an unrelated adult living with a full time Dallas Area Rapid Transit employee. Board members Michael Cheney, Randall Chrisman and Mark Enoch all voted no. Two board members were absent.
The so-called “one plus” plan does not use the term “same sex couples” to avoid it being swatted down by the state.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott maintains that the Texas constitution does not allow benefits for same sex couples because it defines marriage as between one man and one woman. The plan attempts to skirt the line between Abbott’s ruling and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in June.
In that ruling, the nation’s highest court shot down the 1996 law and allowed for gay couples to receive federal benefits. That ruling did not extend to the states, which decide whether to allow gay marriage on their own.
Despite the plan being briskly approved without vocalized opposition on Tuesday, the 14-month journey to securing the vote was long and sometimes arduous. In September, the board seemed poised to have enough votes to approve the plan. Then two board members walked out of the meeting, preventing a quorum. The vote wasn’t taken.
“The journey here with DART has been well over a year, lots of work has gone into it and it’s a relief to know that employees are going to have health care benefits for their partners who cannot legally marry in the state of Texas and for their families,” said Mike LoVuolo, a human rights activist who advocated for the plan.
Rafael McDonnell, an advocacy manager at the Resource Center Dallas, stood before the board and joked about qualifying for a “frequent attendee program” –– “Maybe I’ve earned a mug or a train or something?,” he joked –– and then rattled off more than a dozen organizations that have spoken to the board in favor of the plan.
“It has been a long time coming to this day to get the final vote,” he said.
Opponents of the plan cite its costs –– DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said about 20 of the organization’s 3,700 full time employees are expected to use it. It should cost about $70,000.