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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 7 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 45
Houston will defy Texas state judge on same-sex benefits
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Houston will defy Texas state judge on same-sex benefits

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A Texas state judge ordered the city of Houston to stop providing spousal benefits to the partners of Gay and Lesbian city employees in a November 5 ruling, but the city said it would continue to provide the benefits.

Texas District Judge Lisa Millard issued a temporary restraining order halting the spousal benefits after Harris County Republican boss Jared Woodfill filed a lawsuit against Houston Mayor Annise Parker.

Parker issued an executive order in July extending spousal benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees if they were legally married in another jurisdiction.

Her action was challenged by local Republicans, but in August U.S. District Judge Sim Lake ordered the city to continue providing the benefits pending a final ruling on Texas' same-sex marriage ban.

Lake ruled in a lawsuit brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of Houston city employees who wanted to preserve benefits for their spouses. City officials said they would continue to provide benefits in compliance with the federal court order.

Janice Evans, a spokeswoman for Mayor Parker, told the Houston Chronicle that, 'As a result [of Lake's ruling] today's action will have no impact on the status quo.'

Ken Upton, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, said that the federal judge's decision would override any decision from a state court.

'The U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause clearly provides that a decision based on federal law trumps a conflicting decision based on only state law,' Upton told Lone Star Q newspaper. 'This is a foundational principle that every first-year law student learns and is beyond question or doubt.'

Texas is under the jurisdiction of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which currently has a suit challenging the Texas marriage ban before it. Hearings in that case, DeLeon v. Perry, are scheduled for the week of January 5, 2015.

The district court ruling in this case agreed with the plaintiffs that 'Texas' current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.'

The Fifth Circuit also has a Louisiana case, Robicheaux v. Caldwell, scheduled for the same week.

Judge Millard is reported to have close personal ties to Woodfill, and has intervened to challenge same-sex spousal benefits once before. Last year she issued a similar restraining order, but the city moved the case to federal court, which declined to support her ruling.

The case was subsequently moved back to state court and then dismissed, the move which prompted Woodfill's most recent lawsuit.

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