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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 20 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 51
Texas judge blocks Houston DP benefits
Section One
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Texas judge blocks Houston DP benefits

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Texas county judge has blocked the city of Houston from giving benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees.

In an order issued December 17, Texas District Judge Lisa Millard ordered Houston not to provide any benefits pending a January 6 hearing. Millard acted in response to a lawsuit filed by Harris County Republican Party chair Jared Woodfill, challenging Houston's benefits plan.

The judge's injunction means spouses of city employees will be unable to schedule doctor visits or have prescriptions filled. If they have received care since the benefits took effect November 20, they may be forced to pay the full cost, even though the employees paid spousal premiums.

City sources said that to date, only three couples had signed up for spousal benefits.

Woodfill filed the suit on behalf of Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, registered Houston voters and taxpayers, who objected to the city paying benefits to same-sex spouses.

Houston mayor Annise Parker, an open Lesbian, announced in November that the city government will extend benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees when they have been married in states where it is legal to do so.

Plaintiffs in the suit allege that Parker's decision violated the Houston city charter, the state Defense of Marriage Act, and the Texas Constitution.

Millard said she issued the restraining order blocking the benefits because '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.'

Parker spokesperson Janice Evans-Davis said late on December 17 that she was not aware of the judge's order.

'In the event an order was issued today, the city will seek its immediate reversal,' Evans-Davis said.

In 2001, Houston voters approved a charter amendment banning domestic partner benefits. The amendment states, 'Except as required by State or Federal law, the City of Houston shall not provide employment benefits, including health care, to persons other than employees, their legal spouses and dependent children.'

Parker and Feldman say the amendment explicitly allows benefits for legal spouses.

'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 in November when she announced the policy change. 'This change is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right, just and fair thing to do.'

Houston joined other Texas cities including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, and San Antonio in offering benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. However, Houston is the only city with a charter amendment prohibiting domestic partner benefits, and so Parker had to limit the offer to married spouses.

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus issued a statement after Millard's ruling calling the lawsuit part of the Harris County GOP's 'malicious assault on equality for LGBT Texans.'

' The Harris County GOP doesn't care how many hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars are wasted on this frivolous lawsuit,'said Caucus President Noel Freeman. 'Heading into an election year, this isn't about marriage or taxpayer funding of benefits, it's about turning out social conservative voters.'

Woodfill is up against a popular, well-funded opponent in the March primary. Millard is also up for re-election.

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