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City Employees Sue Houston To Defend Same-Sex Spousal Benefits

The federal lawsuit comes at the same time the city is fighting a state case, charging the city violated Texas law by providing health and other benefits to the spouses of gay and lesbian public employees.



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A trio of Houston city employees are suing the city, in order to preserve same-sex spousal benefits. The federal lawsuit comes as Houston is defending its right to grant such benefits against a challenge in Texas state court.

LGBT civil rights organization Lambda Legal filed the suit on behalf of the three city employees. All three married their spouses before 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in its Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

"States are looking for ways, who don't like the decision, to kind of worm around it and limit it, and we just want the federal courts to put a stop to that now," says Kenneth Upton, senior counsel for Lambda Legal. "And that's what this lawsuit is attempting to do, is saying, look, this ultimately is a matter of federal law. Let's get this resolved once and for all."

A pair of Houston taxpayers are suing the city, arguing the city broke Texas law by using tax dollars to pay same-sex spousal benefits. Earlier this year, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling in favor of the city.

Houston officials did not respond to a request for comment on the Lambda Legal suit by this article’s posting. However, at the time of the state Supreme Court ruling, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city will continue to pay spousal benefits to all eligible employees.

Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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