It has been over a year since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), freeing states with marriage equality from the discriminatory laws enabled by DOMA and allowing legally married same-sex couples to have their relationships be recognized by the federal government.
Following the decision from the Supreme Court, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, under the advice of City Attorney David Feldman, announced in November of last year that the city of Houston would begin to grant health and life insurance benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states with marriage equality laws. “This change is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right, just and fair thing to do,” Parker said.
Harris County GOP quickly pounced against Parker’s decision, and now a judge seems to agree with them.
This week, an order was issued by a state district judge calling on the city to stop offering health and life insurance benefits to spouses of married LGBT city employees.
Leading the lawsuit is former Harris County GOP chairman, Jared Woodfill. “The mayor is restrained and prohibited under the law from paying these benefits,” said Woodfill.
“It’s clearly unlawful to take taxpayer dollars and violate the law — and that’s what the mayor has done,” said Woodfill. “All you have to do is read the Constitution of this state to understand this mayor’s been breaking the law.”
Parker’s decision to recognize benefits for legally married LGBT city employees was made despite a voter-approved 2001 charter amendment that would prohibit this kind of policy. Parker’s same-sex spousal benefits policy was based on City Attorney David Feldman’s legal interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning DOMA, citing a need for equal protection and recognition under the law for all couples. “Based on the right to equal protection under the law, it is unconstitutional for the city to continue to deny benefits to the same-sex spouses of our employees who are legally married,” Parker said then.
Parker and the city of Houston are fighting back against the new order.
The city issued the following statement following the order issued on Wednesday:
“The city is preparing an immediate appeal. Once that appeal is filed, today’s ruling will be stayed and a previous order issued at the federal court level allowing the city to implement same sex spousal benefits will continue in effect. As a result, today’s action will have no impact on the status quo.”
While the number of same-sex spouses benefiting from this policy doesn’t extend beyond 15 city employees, as reported by Houston’s ABC 13, their lives and their families are equally as important as other Houston city employees’ families.
“It was just about being able to provide for my family the way my co-workers do,” said Noel Freeman, an LGBT city employee that may now lose his spousal benefits thanks to the order. Freeman’s husband, Brad Pritchett, says all taxpaying couples deserve to be treated equally under the law — no matter if straight or gay. “It’s not like these benefits are being handed to me for free. We pay for the benefits; we get what we pay for, just like everybody else,” Pritchett said.
You can watch the entire news segment by Houston’s ABC 13 below:
A lot has changed since Houston voters approved of the anti-LGBT 2001 charter amendment.
According to the 2013 poll conducted by Equality Texas, “52.0% of Texas voters now support recognizing the marriages of same-gender couples from states that currently allow marriage.” Additionally, “65.7% of voters support extending domestic partnership benefits to government/public university employees.” The same anti-LGBT Houston charter amendment passed in 2001, over 13 years ago, would not make it passed voters today.
What is not surprising is that Texas Republicans’ stance on LGBT rights has not changed one bit since then — if anything, they have only gone backwards. Thankfully, this is one battle Republicans are destined to lose.
Follow Omar on Twitter at @AraizaTX.