The passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance and the efforts to put a repeal referendum on the ballot have been one of the big local stories this year, but you may recall that before we were all talking about HERO there was another big story relating to equality in Houston. Last November, Mayor Parker announced an update to city policy that would offer health and life insurance benefits to all spouses of legally married employees, including same-sex couples. At the time, the Mayor noted that same sex marriage was legal in 17 states plus the District of Columbia, and since the 2001 charter amendment that banned “domestic partner benefits” for city employees did so by restricting them to employees and their “legal spouses”, there was no justification for limiting that to opposite sex couples. Needless to say, the string of legal decisions since then concerning same sex marriage, including in Texas, has done nothing to undermine or contradict her position.
Naturally, there was a lawsuit filed, by a couple of Republicans at the urging of Jared Woodfill. They succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order, signed by state District Judge Lisa Millard. The city then moved the lawsuit to the federal courts, and succeeded in getting the restraining order dropped pending subsequent hearings. In the meantime, a second lawsuit was filed by two city employees who were beneficiaries of the change in policy to preserve their benefits. These plaintiffs sought to combine the two lawsuits going forward. In January, Greg Abbott stuck his nose in by filing amicus briefs on behalf of Woodfill and his crowd.
Aaaaaaand that, to the best of my knowledge and ability to search Google, is the last we heard of this until this past Thursday, when federal judge Lee Rosenthal issued a ruling that returned the case to state court. I’ve not been successful in figuring out how to find a copy of Judge Rosenthal’s order, so that’s all I can tell you for now. The Lambda Legal summary page for the case (they are representing the plaintiffs in the second lawsuit) has no updates as of today, but perhaps there will be more after the weekend. So that’s all I know for now. If you know any more, please leave a comment.