AUSTIN (KXAN) - Two years ago, Elizabeth Zimmerman took a break from teaching to raise her little boy, Utah. In the time she's been away from the Pflugerville Independent School District, it became the first school district in the state to offer domestic partner benefits
"They (couldn't) get insurance under their partner's plan, and it just (didn't) seem fair to me," said Zimmerman. "It (didn't) make any sense."
That means health insurance for same-sex partners and unmarried, heterosexual couples - a big change for what some of her friends and former co-workers.
"A lot of them are lesbian and gay people, and so it was huge," she said.
This week, the Austin Independent School District became the second district in the state to make the move. Officials said they do not have an official count yet, but it will probably mean covering a "couple hundred" people and cost around $600,000.
The district's joint insurance committee headed up the change, and it was part of the preliminary budget presented to the board of trustees in February. The board does not vote on line items like these benefits, but instead the recommendations in the budget as a whole.
"We're not here to judge. We accept every employee, student, parent that walks through our schoolhouse gates for who and what they are," said Austin Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.
But some critics cannot separate the insurance issue from a bigger social argument - gay marriage. Some parents worry about the example it sets for their children.
"It's unnatural, so there wouldn't be any reason for us to put up with it," said Billie Gorham, one critic. "What we're doing is we're encouraging it."
Zimmerman said she hopes it encourages little Utah to have a more open mind when he starts school in a few years.
"It would be normal for him to see that happen and it wouldn't be taboo or weird or that kind of thing," she said. "That's exciting."
The city of Austin and Travis County have offered domestic partnership benefits since 2006.
The AISD plan is expected to go into effect Sept. 1, but there are some challenges ahead – like a pending attorney general opinion, saying whether this move is legal in Texas. That is expected in May. The is also a Texas House bill that aims to stop health funding to any school district allowing domestic partner benefits.
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