Saturday, January 15, 2011

Federal Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Against "Family Values" Ordinance Limiting City's Health Insurance

Last November, the voters of El Paso, Texas approved an ordinance aimed at barring the city from providing health benefits to domestic partners of city employees. According to KVIA News, on Thursday a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring implementation of the ordinance until he makes a final ruling in mid-April. The ordinance was placed on the ballot by a local Christian group that opposes homosexuality, however the language of the ordinance apparently disqualified a number of unintended individuals. The ballot measure read: "Shall the ordinance, endorsing traditional family values by making health benefits available only to city employees and their legal spouse and dependent children, be approved?"  Currently the city provides insurance to a number of non-employees, such as elected officials, retirees and affiliated contractors. It also provides insurance for dependent grandchildren, not just children. In granting the preliminary injunction, the court concluded that the city needs a legitimate governmental interest in order to take away health insurance, and that it is difficult to identify that interest when the term "traditional family values" does not have a clear definition. The court also concluded that the ordinance may violate the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court also denied the motion by the proponents of the ballot measure-- El Paso for Traditional Family Values-- to intervene and limited it to appearing in an amicus capacity. The group argued that the city would not adequately defend the ordinance.