Should local governments and school districts be allowed to provide marriage benefits to same-sex partners?
DALLAS –– The Dallas City Council on Monday was briefed on recent changes at the federal level to gay marriage, the beginning of a process that could end with the city adopting its first resolution in support of the act.
Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell gave a presentation to the Budget Finance and Audit Committee meant to highlight the discrepancies between federal and state laws concerning same-sex marriage.
While gay couples do not receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples in the city of Dallas, O'Donnell says the city has made progress.
"I think we're on par, I think that the city of Dallas does a great job, I think everybody should be looking right now at how their causes and programs align with these new recent court decisions," said O'Donnell.
While the state of Texas does not recognize gay marriage, there are federal benefits that same sex partners are eligible for, made possible by the Supreme Court deeming a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional last June. That decision allowed same sex couples to become eligible for federal benefits such as Social Security, Medicare and certain tax benefits.
After the ruling, however, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion stating that local governments and school districts are violating the state constitution if they offer benefits to same-sex couples.
"In Texas a same-sex couple, even though they are legally married maybe in another state, but legally married, would not be able to take advantage of that same Social Security benefits," said O'Donnell.
During Monday's meeting, council members hoped to reach a better understanding of how the changes at the Federal level are affecting the gay and lesbian population in Dallas. The discrepancy between state and federal law complicates the issue for city employees.
"We have state laws, we have state's rights, and that's where we're going to have to go to make sure that the right things are done," said Councilman Sheffie Kadane. "We can't do these types of things and make ordinances without following state law."
O'Donnell says she isn't advocating, but instead showing the changes that the federal decision has made on the city.
"So it's that, it's untangling this web of federal benefits what apply in Texas and what do not apply in Texas,” she said.
Mayor Mike Rawlings has said he personally supports same-sex marriage but would not push a resolution onto the City Council. Rawlings or the city manager can put topics up for a vote, so too can the support of five council members.