Top Stories

Houston Judge Tosses Same-Sex Marriage Benefits Challenge, Ft. Bend ISD Halts Litigation Over Sugar Land 95, Holocaust Museum Seeks Artifact Donations, And More

These are some of the stories Houston Public Media is covering.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Top afternoon stories:


Houston Judge Tosses Same-Sex Marriage Benefits Challenge

A Houston judge has thrown out the six-year-old lawsuit a pair of Houston taxpayers filed to keep the city from paying spousal benefits to the same-sex spouses of municipal employees.

The lawsuit dates back to 2013, when pastor Jack Pidgeon and accountant Larry Hicks sued the city to end the policy. In 2015, after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the landmark Obergefell ruling that opened up marriage rights to same-sex couples in all states, Pidgeon and Hicks continued to pursue the lawsuit, arguing that the decision didn’t extend the right to city spousal benefits.

In June 2017, the Texas Supreme Court agreed, ruling unanimously that while same-sex marriage had been made legal, there is still room for state courts to explore the "reach and ramifications" of the landmark Obergefell ruling. The all-Republican high court sent the case back to a Houston trial court for further consideration.

Nearly two years later, Judge Sonya Heath on Monday threw out the case, ruling for Houston in what the city has touted as a major win.

Still, that win won't go unchallenged. Jared Woodfill, the lawyer who represents Pidgeon and Hicks, said Thursday night that his clients will appeal the ruling — and that he expects the case to land again before the Texas Supreme Court and that it could eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Archaeologists work at the Fort Bend County site where the unmarked graves were found.

Fort Bend ISD Halts Litigation Over Sugar Land 95

The Fort Bend Independent School District is halting legal actions regarding the final destination for the remains of 95 individuals that were discovered a year ago, and that experts have determined were likely African-American convicts leased by the State of Texas to provide labor to a local plantation in the 19th century.

A contractor discovered the remains in February of 2018 while working on the initial phase to build the school district's career and technical center.

Between November and December of 2018, after Fort Bend ISD reached an agreement with the City of Sugar Land to rebury the remains at the Old Imperial Prison Farm Cemetery, the school district asked Shoemake for permission for the reburial, but he delayed the decision and appointed a Master in Chancery to oversee the case.

At that point, Fort Bend ISD filed a motion to object to the appointment of a Master in Chancery and an appeals court granted a stay of the appointment, pending further review.

The school district announced on Thursday that it will halt further legal actions.

Houston Holocaust Museum.

Holocaust Museum Houston Seeks Artifact Donations

The Holocaust Museum Houston is seeking to expand its collection of nearly 6,000 items before it reopens its permanent space to the public in June.

The museum will hold an artifact collection day on Sunday, Feb. 24, during which potential donors can meet with the museum's curators.

The museum is specifically seeking documents, photographs or personal items that "educate visitors on the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy," according to a press release. The items can represent Jewish life before, during and after WWII or the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Those that wish to schedule an appointment with a curator on Feb. 24 can do so via this link. The event will be held at the museum's temporary location at 9220 Kirby Drive, Suite 100. Potential donors who aren't able to attend can email More details are available here.

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley.

Whitley’s Confirmation As Texas Secretary Of State In Danger

All 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate have publicly confirmed they are opposed to confirming embattled Secretary of State David Whitley, giving them more than enough votes to block his nomination if they're all in the chamber when the vote comes up. To be confirmed, Whitley needs a two-thirds vote in the 31-member chamber.

Whitley has been scrutinized by Democratic senators for his controversial voter citizenship review, which was based on deeply flawed data and seemingly pulled in tens of thousands of registered voters for review because they were naturalized citizens.

Whitley was appointed to the post by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in December, who said through a spokesman Friday that he continues to back his nominee "100 percent" despite the opposition of the full Senate Democratic Caucus. Whitley was not confirmed last fall because the Legislature was not yet in session.

The state is now facing three federal lawsuits over the secretary of state's botched attempt to review the rolls.

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