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Shock! Harris County GOP Chair Sues Over Gay Spousal Benefits

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Houston Mayor Annise Parker
http://www.houstontx.gov/mayor/
Houston Mayor Annise Parker

From the Department of Inevitability, the Harris County Republicans filed suit yesterday over Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s move to provide spousal benefits to same-sex partners of city employees who have been legally married in other states. District Judge Lisa Millard issued a temporary restraining order halting the policy until a hearing January 6th.

Dateline Houston speculates that it took the Harris County Republicans so long to sue (Parker made her announcement four weeks ago) because their chairman, Jared Woodfill, was working out the exact language to describe the badness of the change.

It’s “one of the most egregious acts by an elected official I’ve ever seen,” he told the Houston Chronicle, apparently up there with Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair. “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.”

Leaving aside the facts that 1) lame ducks are officials whose tenure is nearly over, while Mayor Parker, though in her last term, has just been re-elected by 30 points, and 2) ducks don’t have thumbs or noses, Woodfill’s claim that the Constitution forbids such an act is dubious at best.

Firstly, the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited federal recognition of gay marriages was struck down this year as a violation of the Fifth Amendment. (Who’s spitty now?) Secondly, the Texas National Guard yielded last month to Pentagon pressure and began offering same-sex spousal benefits. (Hippies.) Thirdly, Austin, Dallas, El Paso and Fort Worth already have policies like Houston’s, making it look a little less egregious.

City Attorney David Feldman told the Chronicle he expects the lawsuit to be thrown out because the Harris County Republicans “don’t appear to have any particular state to complain about this. Just being a taxpayer isn’t enough.”

All that aside, it’s not hard to see why the group is upset. In 2001, voters approved an amendment to the city charter that banned benefits for anyone but “legal spouses.” (That change, by the way, was spearheaded by Dave Wilson, the white man recently elected to be a Houston Community College trustee after leading voters to believe that he was black.) Since Texas refuses to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, the marriages aren’t legal here. But, citing the recent IRS decision to recognize married gay couples for tax purposes, even if they live in states banning gay marriage, Houston decided to do it anyway.

Mayor Parker, who is gay, will be unaffected by the change because she and her partner of 24 years are unmarried.

Emily DePrang joined The Texas Observer in 2011 as a staff writer covering criminal justice and public health. Before that, she was nonfiction editor of the Sonora Review. Before that, she was a waitress. She's also appeared in The Atlantic, Salon.com, and VICE. She holds an MFA in Nonfiction from the University of Arizona and has won some things, including the Public Service Award from the Society of Professional Journalists (2012), the National Health Journalism Fellowship from USC Annenberg (2013), and a nomination for a National Magazine Award in Reporting (2014). She still sometimes thinks about waitressing.

  • 1bimbo

    so tyrants who violate city and state law actually get challenged?

    • Arnnmann

      I think before you comment again here you may want to invest in a dictionary. When you have it, look in the “T” section under “tyrant.”