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Thursday, July 31, 2014

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AG weighs in on same-sex benefits lawsuit against city

Jayme Frase, Houston Chronicle
Updated 3:54 pm, Tuesday, January 21, 2014
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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed a brief in two lawsuits outlining his opposition to Houston's new policy of granting benefits to same-sex couples legally married in other states.

Mayor Annise Parker announced the policy change in November, despite a voter-approved 2001 charter amendment that had banned the practice and Texas' Defense of Marriage Act. Parker's decision to extend benefits relied on a legal opinion from City Attorney David Feldman that cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, federal agencies' subsequent decisions to recognize legal same-sex marriages and other relevant case law.

Harris County Republicans responded in December by suing in state district court to halt the new policy. The city since has requested the matter be moved to a federal court. After a state judge issued a restraining order to delay implementation, the national gay rights group Lambda Legal also sued the city on behalf of employees caught in limbo.

Abbott's brief supports Harris County Republicans' desire to keep their case in state court and requested the federal suit by Lambda Legal be dismissed, according to a press release from conservative advocacy group Texas Values.

"The Lambda Legal lawsuit is a sham, and the last ditch effort by Mayor Parker and the City of Houston to move this case to federal court after losing twice in state court is a miscarriage of justice that must be stopped," said Jonathan Saenz, attorney and president of Texas Values. "Texas has the right to enforce Texas law and the Texas Constitution in Texas state courts. We are thankful that Attorney General Abbott has sided with our position on this issue, and we believe that his office's further involvement in this case will be a benefit to Texans and to the Texas Constitution."

Parker married her longtime partner, Kathy Hubbard, in California last week. In a statement announcing the marriage, the mayor's office said Hubbard has other options for insurance and will not seek city benefits.