Led by Word of Life Church’s Pastor Tom Brown, a group of conservative Christians in El Paso, Texas, thought they were pushing lawmakers to keep the partners of gay city employees from receiving health benefits on par with married heterosexual workers. Except they accidentally killed benefits for retired police officials and firefighters. Even straight ones!
The effort backfired, WSJ reports, over less-than-thought-out language. Sort of like that marriage thing in Texas. It all happened because after El Paso officials voted to include domestic partners (both gay and straight) in shared benefits — at a mere $30k out of a $34 million budget, mind you, after 19 people signed up — the anti-gay Christians “could not find a lawyer to advise it and so came up with the wording on its own,” the WSJ reports Pastor Tom Brown said.
The measure was aimed at gay workers and their partners. The wording of the proposal, however, was vague, asking El Paso residents to endorse “traditional family values” by limiting benefits to “city employees and their legal spouse and dependent children.” So when 55% of the voters approved the measure on Election Day, they eliminated coverage for some 200 people who don’t fit that description—among them elected officials, who aren’t technically city employees, and many former city workers, the city says.
Now, officials are weighing what to do. Last month, the city council decided not to use its authority to repeal what is now a city law. On Tuesday, it agreed to allow the city attorney to come up with ways to amend the ordinance, which goes into effect Jan. 1. But some members warned that they would vote against any proposal that restores benefits for retirees and not for domestic partners.
[...] Meanwhile, past and current employees are clamoring to reinstate the health benefits, and union leaders are preparing a lawsuit against the city. Counting all those city workers who would lose benefits when they retire, the number of affected people could grow to at least 10,000 over several years, said Ron Martin, president of the local police union. “We don’t want to get into a holy war with the church,” he said. “I just wish they would have left us alone.”
But who might be looking to get into a war with the church? The gays.
The city’s gay community, which usually keeps a low profile, is out protesting. Last week, activists showed up at the Word of Life Church, whose pastor organized the ballot measure, with posters reading “Jesus wouldn’t take away health benefits” and “Love thy neighbor gay or straight.”
For Pastor Brown, who cannot believe “people [are] calling us bigots,” it’s still unclear who left the “whole truckload of manure and dropped it right on my parking spot on Sunday morning.”