Federal Judge Denies Request to Halt Spousal Benefits for Gay Houston City Employees

A federal judge on Thursday denied a request for a stay that would have halted spousal benefits for gay Houston city employees, Lone Star Q reports:

ParkerU.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal considered the request after the case was moved from state court to federal court by the defendants — Mayor Annise Parker and the city of Houston.

Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill, on behalf of taxpayers Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, sued Parker and the city in December after she extended benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees who are legally married in other states.

State District Judge Lisa Millard, a Republican, issued a restraining order halting the benefits, before the city moved the case to federal court, where Woodfill sought another restraining order. Following a lengthy hearing on Thursday afternoon in Houston, Rosenthal denied the request.

In related news, Parker called for an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance in her inaugural address on Tuesday.


  1. MiddleoftheRoader says

    This is good news — but a very confusing situation for lawyers.

    The state court judge issued a restraining order against the City of Houston that prohibits the city from providing same-sex partner benefits. The restraining order did not have an expiration date on it, though the judge set up another court hearing for January 6.

    The City of Houston removed the case to federal court. For lots of technical reasons, it’s unclear if the federal court will be able to “keep” the case — or whether the federal court will ultimately have to send it back to the state court because it does not satisfy the federal legal standards for removal. In any event, unless and until the federal court sends the case back to the state court, the federal court has total jurisdiction over the case and the state court is not permitted to do anything further.

    What is strange, however, is that the state court restraining order issued against the City of Houston is still “outstanding”. Just because the case was removed to federal court does not automatically mean that a state court order disappears. So even though the federal court refused to order the City of Houston to stop providing benefits to same-sex partners, the state court order still seems to be in effect — even though the state court doesn’t have any authority to enforce it (because the state court is completely without authority to do anything further as long as the case remains in federal court).

    We will have to see the exact words of the federal judge’s order. And we will have to wait to see if the “second shoe” drops — the federal court said it was not yet ruling on the motion to send the case back to the state court, but it will have to rule on that motion in the coming days or weeks.

    Interesting and confusing.

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