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UPDATE: Controversial Ordinance Sparks Heated Argument From Both Sides

Friday, January 14, 2011 - 9:03pm

EL PASO— A federal court has barred the city of El Paso from refusing health benefits to anyone.

The lawsuit, which was filed by several city employees, claims the ordinance is unconstitutional. Now a federal judge is barring the city from enforcing the ordinance in any way, including terminating or refusing any health policies with anyone because of the ordinance.

"This is exactly what we were afraid of: an attorney giving a weak defense sabotaging the defense on purpose,” said Pastor Tom Brown.

Pastor Tom Brown says he wasn't surprised by a judge's decision to overturn the controversial domestic partners ordinance. Brown believes the city wanted to lose, and says the judge didn't even listen to their side.

"The judge already, I think before he got everything, made up his mind," said Brown. Brown was the main force behind the ordinance that endorsed tradition family values.

After several weeks of debate in city council, voters passed it in November.

That meant same sex couples and domestic partners of city employees would lose their health benefits. Inadvertently, some retirees and even judges were set to be cut off.

"Just because the will of the people vote— it's our understanding that a lot of people didn't understand it— that doesn't mean it's constitutional,” said Lyda Ness-Garcia, from El Paso for Equality. Garcia fought against the ordinance.

This week, her hard work paid off, after a federal judge barred the city from enforcing it. The judge called the ordinance unconstitutional and said people would suffer irreparable harm if they lost their benefits. He also said there was no clear definition for "traditional family values." And even if there was, he didn't see how taking away people's benefits helped promote it.

"El Paso for Equality feels very vindicated, this is exactly what we've been saying, not only was Tom Brown promoting hateful agenda which is unconstitutional, it's also an illegal agenda,” said Garcia.

Brown denied he was trying to single out homosexuals from getting benefits. He says as a minister it's his job to spread the word, and if it meant taking away health benefits to do that, then so be it.

"To take away benefits will cause them to say, 'wait, wait, this is not right...' it makes them say 'wait a minute, maybe what I'm doing is wrong,'” said Brown.

That's an argument Garcia simply can't understand.

"This isn't something about morality, these are people's lives. people could die and people could suffer severe medical harm,” said Garcia.
 

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