December 18, 2013
A state judge in Texas yesterday halted a move by the city of Houston to provide benefits to city employees’ same-sex spouses, putting the issue on hold until a hearing scheduled for early next month. Lone Star Q reports:
State District Judge Lisa Millard issued the order in response to a lawsuit filed by Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill, on behalf of plaintiffs Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks. The order from Millard, a Republican, says the city must stop providing the benefits pending a hearing on Jan. 6.
Pidgeon and Hicks, who are Houston taxpayers and registered voters, brought the suit in response to Mayor Annise Parker’s decision in November to extend benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees who are legally married in other states. The plaintiffs allege that Parker’s decision violated the Houston city charter, the state Defense of Marriage Act and the Texas Constitution.
“Plaintiffs’ claims of statutory and constitutional injury and violation of the City of Houston’s Charter, present a substantial threat that irreparable injury would result if the temporary restraining order does not issue,” Mallard wrote.
According to Lone Star Q, Mayor Parker’s office is not yet aware of the order, although a spokesperson for the mayor said that if such a decision had indeed been made, “the city will seek its immediate reversal.”
Last month, Mayor Parker, who is openly gay and had recently been elected to her third and last term, announced that Houston would provide health and life insurance benefits to employees and their same-sex partners who had wed in marriage equality states, even though Texas prohibits recognition of such unions. Her decision came despite a 2001 amendment approved by a city voters which reads that Houston “shall not provide employment benefits, including health care, to persons other than employees, their legal spouses and dependent children.”
Parker argued that, because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, married same-sex partners constitute “legal spouses” under the terms of the amendment. Several other Texas cities offer domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples–among them Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio–but on Houston has an amendment specifically addressing such benefits.
As we reported this spring, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion holding that local jurisdictions which provide domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples are in violation of the Texas Constitution, which voters amended in 2005 to ban marriage equality.