PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby has ruled that the city of Portland’s domestic partnership ordinance is constitutional and does not discriminate against religious groups.

The ordinance requires organizations that receive federal grants through the city to offer employees with same-sex or unmarried heterosexual partners the same benefits offered to married workers.

But Hornby also ruled that a Catholic Charities health plan is covered by federal law that sets limits on employee health insurance and pension plans, and may not be modified by a state or local government.

“We are very pleased,” said Patricia Peard, a lawyer who represented the city. “Our position on the ordinance was correct. Everything we did was legal and constitutional.”

Catholic Charities leader John Kerry also expressed satisfaction.

“Our primary concern was in terms of equating two persons who were not married with married couples, which we do not approve of,” Kerry said. “Now we can apply for the grants and we don’t have to compromise our fundamental beliefs.”

The city enacted its ordinance in 2001, creating a registry for domestic partners and making benefits available to the partners of city and school employees. A year later, the ordinance was extended to include organizations that receive federal Housing and Community Development grants from the city.

Catholic Charities sued in 2003.

In a decision released Friday, the judge gave the parties a split decision.

“The ordinance passes constitutional muster as long as it is rationally related to a legitimate interest,” Hornby wrote. “The city’s interest in increasing the number of residents covered by health insurance is legitimate, and the ordinance is a rational means of achieving the city’s goal.”

Hornby’s decision also put health benefits in some cases out of the city’s reach.

“The city of Portland’s goal of expanding the number of residents receiving health benefits may be worthy; but federal law does not permit states or municipalities to regulate the content of employee benefit plans that are covered by ERISA,” Hornby wrote, referring to the Employee Retirement Insurance Security Act of 1974.


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