In November, openly lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker decreed that city employees who legally married their same-sex in other states could now qualify for spousal health and life insurance benefits. Soon after, a judge suspended the payment of all benefits pending the outcome of a lawsuit brought against Parker by the Harris County Republican Party for her "illegal" order.
Now the LGBT-advocacy group Lambda Legal is suing the city on behalf of three same-sex couples to have Parker's promised benefits reinstated. Kenneth Upton, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas said:
“City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses—at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work.These employees, some who have worked for the City for many years, acted in good faith when notified the City was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses."
"They enrolled for spousal benefits, including health insurance, paid the premiums, scheduled doctor visits and underwent treatments that will require ongoing care. Now, suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under them.”
In 2011, El Paso county in Texas experienced a similar situation when a local anti-gay activist sued to city to stop it from extending health benefits to domestic partners. The activist said that extending benefits was in violation of the Texas constitution which specifically states, "a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage." Thus far, a District Court has said the El Paso benefits do not violate the state constitution.
Houston's situation is different however as it focuses on mayoral power rather than the constitutionality of said benefits. The case against Parker will go before a judge on January 6, 2014.