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Texas judge halts Houston’s domestic partnership benefit program

LGBT Legal Cases

Texas state sealA 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.

7 Comments

  • 1. Rex Gillit  |  December 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

    The title of this article is misleading. The provision applies to same-sex spouses of city employees who are legally married in another state. It is not a "domestic partner" benefit, which is specifically banned by the 2001 amendment to the city charter.

  • 2. Fr. Bill  |  December 18, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Bottom line: That'd be Texas and that'd be Republicans in Texas. Someday it maight get its own diagnostic code

  • 3. Rik  |  December 18, 2013 at 11:02 am

    what horrible horrible people

  • 4. Joel  |  December 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Can anyone enlighten me on this matter please…I thought the DOL released a guidance back in September stating that employers on ALL states must recognize same-sex couples in their benefit programs? (Department of Labor Technical Release 2013-04 on ERISA)

    As I understand it, this instruction from the DOL is federal and that it applies to ALL states, whether same-sex marriage is recognized in that state or not. If this is so, why is the city of Houston (being an employer) being prevented from giving benefits to married same-sex couples?

  • 5. Johnny  |  December 19, 2013 at 2:04 am

    Can someone explain to me why the openly gay democrat mayor of a city (after three terms) has not enacted civil union benefits for same sex couples, when other Texas cities without a gay mayor have? Is this another case of a gay politician not wanting to stick their neck out for their own community all for political power?

  • 6. Eric  |  December 19, 2013 at 5:17 am

    As the post states, the city charter prevents it.

  • 7. JayJonson  |  December 19, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Some context is offered in this blog from glbtq.com: http://www.glbtq.com/blogs/houstons_spousal_benef

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