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Legal Battle Over Same-Sex Marriage Benefits Continues As Lambda Legal Sues City of Houston

by: Omar Araiza

Fri Dec 27, 2013 at 01:15 PM CST

The pro-LGBT legal organization, Lambda Legal, filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Houston fighting to preserve same-sex marriage benefits enacted by Mayor Annise Parker in November. The federal lawsuit was filed by the organization on behalf of three LGBT city employees in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

"City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses - at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work. These employees, some who have worked for the City for many years, acted in good faith when notified the City was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses," said the Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal's South Central Regional Office in Dallas, Kenneth Upton.

"They enrolled for spousal benefits, including health insurance, paid the premiums, scheduled doctor visits and underwent treatments that will require ongoing care. Now, suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under them."

Read more below the jump.

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Noel Freeman, was surprised the new policy was put on hold and their benefits taken away:

"The notice from the City was like a punch in the stomach. Brad and I were so excited when we learned we could enroll him on my plan that we signed him up within an hour of finding out. And now, just a month later, they tell us they're going to have to take it away, that once again I will be paid less than my married heterosexual colleagues for the same work. How is this fair?" argued Freeman.

Freeman is a nine-year employee of the City and has been with his partner for over eleven years.

Upton believes same-sex couples are wrongfully being discriminated against:

"By refusing to recognize the legal marriage of same-sex couples for the purpose of providing employment benefits, the City deprives some Houston families of a critical safety net and financial security. By stripping legally married gay and lesbian city employees of spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, the City not only inflicts severe hardship, but sends a signal that their families are less worthy than those of their coworkers. This the Constitutional does not allow," argued Upton.

The Harris County GOP sued the City of Houston earlier this month and had a judge put the new policy on hold after signing a temporary restraining order. Same-sex couples were then forced to withdraw from benefits and cancel their coverage.

"This is one of the most egregious acts by an elected official I've ever seen," said Jared Woodfill, chairman of the Harris County GOP, who is leading the lawsuit against same-sex benefits. "They just decided to, unilaterally, as a lame duck, thumb their nose at the will of the people and just spit on the U.S. Constitution."

Parker's decision to extend equal benefits to all married couples was based on City Attorney David Feldman's legal interpretation of the recent U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Court's ruling has now began granting equal federal recognition to all married couples.

Feldman believes the Harris County GOP does not appear to have any legal standing and, therefore, their lawsuit will likely be thrown out. The policy won't go before a judge until after New Year's Day, on Jan. 6, 2014.

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