UPDATE: A state district judge on Tuesday issued an order blocking the city from providing benefits to same-sex spouses pending a hearing in January. Read more here.
The chair of the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the city of Houston over Mayor Annise Parker’s decision to extend benefits to the married same-sex partners of employees.
The Houston Chronicle reports that Harris GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is the lead lawyer in the lawsuit alleging that Parker’s decision to extend the benefits in November violated the Houston city charter, the state Defense of Marriage Act and the Texas Constititution.
“This is one of the most egregious acts by an elected official I’ve ever seen,” Woodfill told the Chronicle. “They just decided to, unilaterally, as a lame duck, thumb their nose at the will of the people and just spit on the U.S. Constitution.”
Houston City Attorney David Feldman responded by saying he doesn’t believe the plaintiffs have standing to bring the lawsuit.
Shortly after being re-elected to her third and final term, Parker announced in November that the city was extending health and life insurance benefits to the same-sex spouses of employees who are legally married in other states. The decision was based on Feldman’s interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling striking down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, as well as case law from the around the country.
“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 at the time. “This change is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right, just and fair thing to do.”
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 allows benefits for legal spouses. Woodfill and others have accused Parker of promoting “mob rule” and “anarchy” with the decision.
Houston joined other cities including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio in offering benefits to same-sex partners in Texas.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a non-binding opinion in April saying he believes domestic partner benefits offered by local government entities are illegal under Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.