A federal appeals court has blocked a recall election to remove three El Paso, Texas elected officials who backed gay rights, the El Paso Times reported.

Pastor Tom Brown of the Word of Life Church led an effort to oust El Paso Mayor John Cook and two City Council members, Steve Ortega and Susie Byrd, because they supported giving health insurance benefits to the unmarried domestic partners of city workers.

The battle began in 2009, when the Council approved giving benefits to the unmarried domestic partners of city employees, regardless of sexual orientation. Opponents, led by Brown, forced a voter referendum, which was approved with 55 percent of the vote in 2010.

In June, the Council restored the insurance benefit. An outraged Brown countered with an effort to recall the mayor and the two council members. (The terms of two other members who voted for the ordinance have since ended.)

The Eighth Court of Appeals on Friday unanimously ruled against Brown and ordered the recall petitions be decertified.

“Having instructed the City Clerk to decertify the petitions, no election thereon may be called or held,” the court ordered.

Brown and his church helped organize the recall effort, violating a law prohibiting corporations from making political contributions to recall elections, said Mark Walker, Cook's lawyer.

Brown said he would appeal the case to the Texas Supreme Court. Citing the appeals court's unanimous ruling, Walker said the high court was unlikely to take the case.

Cook is seeking to have defendants, Brown and his church, pay his attorney's fees, estimated at about $250,000, and damages.

While Brown and his supporters have used anti-gay sentiment in their campaign, The New York Times reported that only 2 of the 19 city employees in domestic partnerships who received the benefit are gay.