Suit Seeks to Block Partner Benefits in the Big Easy

July 3, 2003 ( - A lawsuit that would block the Big Easy from offering benefits to unmarried domestic partners of city employees has been filed by a French Quarter pastor and five others.

The lawsuit was filed in Civil District Court against the city of New Orleans and the City Council by Mike Johnson, a Shreveport lawyer who is affiliated with the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona Christian law firm. It challenges the registry for domestic partnerships set up in 1997 during Mayor Marc Morial’s administration on grounds that the city does not have the authority to govern marriage, according to a Times Picayune report.

“A city can’t decide what marriage is,” Johnson said, according to the report. “The (New Orleans) domestic partnership ordinance equates non-marital live-in relationships to traditional marriage.”

Thwarted Purpose?

The suit seeks to declare that the city lacks the legal authority to grant health or other benefits to the unmarried domestic partners of its employees and to stop the city from continuing to spend public money for that purpose, due to the contradiction the ordinance strikes with the state Constitution and many Louisiana laws that “expressly state that Louisiana favors traditional marriage and the traditional definition of a family, so the domestic partnership ordinance thwarts the purpose of all those laws,” Johnson said.

However, Chris Daigle, chairman of the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus, said he disagrees with the suit’s claims. “We don’t believe the New Orleans ordinance is governing any relationship,” Daigle said. “It recognizes an alternative form of relationships, but in no way governs them.”

To register as domestic partners, two people who cannot or choose not to marry pay the city $35 and sign a form that says they agree to live in committed relationships and be jointly responsible for their basic living expenses.