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Anti-Gay Ballot Initiatives Hurt Straight People, Too

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The only anti-gay ballot initiative that passed this week that I know of was in El Paso, Texas. Surprise surprise, it was poorly-worded and now everyone's getting benefits cut:

By a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, voters passed an initiative saying, "The city of El Paso endorses traditional family values by making health benefits available only to city employees and their legal spouse and dependent children."

In response, the city attorney's office released a statement Wednesday saying there could be legal challenges, but the city will eliminate health coverage of:

  • Gay and unmarried partners of city employees.
  • Children such as foster kids who are not dependents under the federal tax code.
  • Grandchildren of city employees.
  • Retirees who are eligible for health coverage through another employer.

Now homophobes are rushing to reinterpret the wording of the ballot initiative, saying that no one meant to hurt anyone but the gays and unmarried straight couples (they're living in sin, too). Turns out their telepathic powers are better than anyone could have imagined:

The Rev. Tom Brown helped organize the ballot initiative. He said supporters never intended to eliminate benefits for anybody but gay and unmarried domestic partners of city employees.

On Wednesday, Brown said he would have to talk with his group's attorney before he could comment on the proposal to cut benefits to some retirees, dependents and grandchildren.

Some on the City Council are mulling an ordinance extending benefits to all but employees' gay and unmarried partners. They say a poorly worded initiative is forcing them to consider the step.

"The problem is we have to ask ourselves, what was the intent of the voters?" city Rep. Steve Ortega said.

City Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Ortega both supported the domestic partners benefit when the City Council created it last year.

But they said they would respect the will of the voters -- as they understand it.

"It seems clear that a majority of voters in El Paso do not want to extend benefits to domestic partners of city employees," O'Rourke said. "I think we've got to respect that."

But O'Rourke said he will propose an ordinance maintaining benefits for those other than domestic partners, and Ortega said he would support such a move.

Determining voter intent is a tricky business, though. Many said they were confused by the wording of the initiative. For example, Lourdis Pinedo, 48, said she mistakenly voted for the ballot initiative.

"I thought I was voting for gay and unmarried partners to have insurance," she said Wednesday.

Who knows if there weren't people who voted for the measure just because they don't like government health care benefits generally. After seeing all these folks on the right last year come out against "big government" and "tax and spend," specifically with regards to health care, I wouldn't be surprised to find out if there are people who think that cutting the elderly and foster children off from doctors and medication is just icing on the cake. Why don't they just get a job instead of being parasites on the system, etc?

What's interesting, though, is how quickly the right went from "literal interpretation of the law" to "what was the intent of the voters?" The literal interpretation is fairly clear: everyone who's not an employee, their legal spouse, or their child loses health care. The article seems to imply that the city council isn't legally bound to follow the results of the initiative, but they either respect it or they reject it. Enforcing only part of it with the specious justification "they really only voted for part of this initiative," the part that certain city councilors like, is disingenuous. The results were close enough that if even 10% of the people who voted for the initiative disagree with an interpretation then it would have failed.

The irony is that there are probably many people who depend on these benefits who ended up voting for the initiative, considering how some people said they thought it was hard to interpret. I can understand -- not everyone knows that "traditional family values" is code for sexism and homophobia, and most people don't know the whole list of people getting their health care coverage from the city, especially when they're in a ballot booth considering the question of who gets covered for the first time without any help or prior knowledge on the topic.

These initiatives to take away health care and domestic partner benefits from sinful couples (gay or unmarried) are based on two faulty premises: 1) that people's relationships with others are simple and easily whittled down to a handful of important relationships; and 2) that it's moral to deny people access to health care in order to force them to do what you want them to do. Since many Americans are perfectly comfortable with both premises, there will be plenty more ballot initiatives like this one coming.

Whether it's X group or Y group or XYZ all together getting their health care cut doesn't matter; when people decide to go vote to keep others from getting the help they need to stay alive something is already deeply broken in our culture. It's a violent mentality that can't help but hurt more people than intended.

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