All married city employees may continue to receive spousal benefits for now

Good news.


Married same-sex couples will continue to receive health and life insurance benefits from the city of Houston, a federal judge ruled Friday, pending the outcome of an appeal in a separate lawsuit.


[Mayor Annise] Parker’s policy change spurred two lawsuits.

The first lawsuit came from conservatives, who argued the policy change violates Houston’s city charter, the state’s Defense of Marriage Act and the Texas Constitution. A state district judge quickly signed an order preventing the city from offering the benefits, but that order was lifted in January after the city moved the case to federal court. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal moved the proceedings back to state court, saying she did not have jurisdiction over the case, but adding that “the substantive issues are likely to be decided, in a federal forum, regardless of this remand.”

The second lawsuit came from city employees whose benefits were denied by the temporary restraining order. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake on Friday granted the plaintiffs’ motion to leave Houston’s same-sex benefits in place pending a ruling from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether Texas’ Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional. A federal judge in San Antonio in February ruled the law unconstitutional.

Feldman and Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, argue the state’s ban is superseded by the recent federal actions related to same-sex benefits.

See my summary from Sunday of Judge Rosenthal’s ruling, which you can read here thanks to Robbie Westmoreland. The Lambda Legal summary page for this lawsuit, Freeman et al. v. Parker and City of Houston, is still not updated. The Fifth Circuit still has not scheduled its hearing on the appeal in the DeLeon v. Perry case; they had to wait for Greg Abbott to file his incredibly lame brief first. As for the first lawsuit, the District Clerk records for it shows its status as “Disposed (Final)” as of May 9, which confuses me a little. Perhaps the case information hasn’t been updated to reflect the remand from federal court yet, or perhaps there’s a different plaintiff now and I’m not finding the correct case? I’m not sure. In any event, this is where things stand for now.

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