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Popular Topics in The Arts
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Topics In the News
 
Houston's Spousal Benefits Challenged in Court
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/18/13
Last updated on: 12/18/13
 
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Mayor Annise Parker.

On December 17, 2013, Harris County Republicans filed suit against the City of Houston to challenge Mayor Annise Parker's extension of health and life insurance benefits to all spouses of legally married city employees, including same-sex couples.

Soon after her re-election in November 2013 to her third and final term as Mayor of Houston, an election she won with 57 percent of the vote, 30 percent more than her closest opponent in the nine-person field, Parker issued an executive order extending the benefits, effective January 1, 2014.

In 2001, a citizens' initiative was passed to deny benefits to same-sex partners of city employees, but did so by limiting spousal benefits to legally married partners, apparently not foreseeing that same-sex couples would ever be able to be legally married.

In extending the benefits, Parker argued that the United States Supreme Court decision in June 2013 in United States v. Windsor, which found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, supersedes a similar state constitutional amendment in Texas.

However, as Brian Rogers reports in the Houston Chronicle, Harris County Republican Chairman Jared Woodfill, who initiated the suit filed on December 17, described Parker's action as "one of the most egregious acts by an elected official I've ever seen."

"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," Woodfill added.

In response to the suit state District Judge Lisa Millard, a Republican, signed a temporary restraining order putting the new policy on hold until the matter goes before a judge on January 6, 2014.

The lawsuit alleges that the mechanism that Parker used to enact benefits for same-sex couples violates the Houston's city charter, the state Defense of Marriage Act, and the Texas Constitution.

Attorneys for the city said that the lawsuit will likely be thrown out because the two men who filed it do not appear to have legal standing.

"They don't appear to have any particular stake to complain about this," said City Attorney David Feldman. "Just being a taxpayer isn't enough."

Feldman addressed the other issues outlined in the lawsuit when Parker announced the change despite a voter-approved 2001 charter amendment that had banned the practice in November and said the administration's position has not changed.

Feldman noted the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act this year, federal agencies' subsequent decisions to recognize legal same-sex marriages, and other relevant case law in support of the city's position.

In the brief video below, Mayor Parker speaks of her experience growing up gay.

In the longer video below, from October 2013, Mayor Parker gives a thoughtful and revealing keynote address at the University of Chicago about "Changing the Political Landscape" in which she discusses the spate of youth suicides and the problem of internalized homophobia.

 
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