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Austin mulls
domestic-partner benefits

Austin mulls
domestic-partner benefits

Members of the Austin city council said they want to put to voters a proposition that would extend health benefits to city employees' gay or straight partners. Council member Brewster McCracken called for repealing an existing prohibition on offering partner benefits. The proposal for the May 13 ballot would extend coverage to either a domestic partner or a family member living with a city employee. "This is about principle, about correcting something that has been unfair," McCracken said. The city council approved offering domestic-partner benefits in 1993. But the policy lasted only nine months until a citizen vote overturned it by a margin of 62% to 38%. A group called Concerned Texans led the campaign to repeal the benefits, criticizing them as financially irresponsible and domestic partnerships as immoral. Dallas and Travis County are the only two local governments in Texas to offer domestic-partner benefits, said Chuck Smith of the advocacy group Equity Texas. Travis County, which is home to Austin, last year overwhelmingly rejected Proposition 2, a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Statewide, the proposition passed by a more than 3-to-1 ratio. A majority of the city council would have to approve putting the issue to a citywide vote. Of the council's seven members, four have said they would support some sort of coverage for domestic partners and others. "The city will have better employees if they know their significant others will be cared for," council member Lee Leffingwell said. Council member Danny Thomas, a mayoral candidate in the May election, said he would not support the proposition because the 1994 election settled the issue. Thomas was the only council member to support the same-sex marriage ban. Glen Maxey, a Democratic political consultant, said he doesn't think a May election on partner benefits would center on gay rights. "It's not about gays and lesbians; it's about health insurance," he said. "It's about, Does the city want to offer the same kind of insurance package the county does?" (AP)

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