Texas State Court Blocks Houston Gays From Marriage Benefits - Civil Rights Law - U.S. Fifth Circuit
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Texas State Court Blocks Houston Gays From Marriage Benefits

A Texas District Court Judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the City of Houston from extending marriage benefits and protections to gay couples.

This injunctive action was prompted by open lesbian and recently re-elected three-time Houston Mayor Annise Parker declaring that Houston would provide its legally married employees and their same-sex spouses with health and life insurance benefits, reports Think Progress.

Does this new resistance to offering LGBT persons benefits flirt with disaster?

Texas Suit Against City of Houston

Mayor Parker had announced that her city would be extending marriage benefits for same-sex married city employees because she believes denying them is unconstitutional, reports Lone Star Q. Parker's decision was in part based on Houston City Attorney David Feldman's assertion that SCOTUS' decision in Windsor allows the city to provide benefits to couples who have been legally married out-of-state.

Similar to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the state of Texas had amended its constitution in 2005 to prohibit any state entity from recognizing same-sex marriages as a legal union.

After this bold move by Mayor Parker, the chair of Harris County's Republican Party filed suit claiming that extending these benefits to LGBT couples not only violated Texas' constitution but also a 2001 amendment to the city's charter which denies non-married couples (read: gay couples) benefits, reports the Houston Chronicle.

As a first salvo in this battle over same-sex marriage benefits, Judge Lisa Millard granted a TRO against Houston's enforcement of the new policy, pending hearing the actual merits of the case.

Romer Anyone?

As Mayor Parker and her colleagues may have noticed, the current trend of Texas enforcement of laws is starting to look a lot like the case in Romer v. Evans. Like in Romer, the state blocking any attempt to give any recognition to same-sex couples simply due to their gender or sexual orientation seems fairly antithetical to the principles of equal protection.

And while U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy more partial to grand, evocative language rather than specific legal doctrine (see also Windsor), the ethos of Romer seems even clearer now: bare animus in blocking any benefits or protections being given to gays and lesbians is contrary to equal protection.

If the federal government acknowledges Texas out-of-state gay marriages as legal, and the IRS and other federal branches extend federal benefits to these marriages in Texas, then is it then illegal for Mayor Parker to offer these "married" couples benefits through the City of Houston?

Further, the state seems to walk a reed thin line in justifying denying such couples benefits, if the only apparent reason is to support popular disapproval of same-sex marriage.

Bottom Line

This state court decision is still just a TRO, and not a final ruling on the merits. And as in California's Prop 8 case, it seems unclear whether the plaintiffs have standing.

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