Monday, January 6, 2014

Lawsuits over Same-Sex Benefits - City of Houston

Legal cases currently in the news deal with questions of equal rights & protection, and State versus Federal law

An important and fascinating issue is currently working its way through the court system.   Here is a summary of what has happened so far:

November 20, 2013:  Houston Mayor Annise Parker announces that all legally married city employees are eligible to enroll their spouses for spousal benefits in the city's health care plan. This includes all same-sex couples who are legally married in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage as legal.  Couples enroll in the plan.

December 17, 2013:  Two Houston GOP leaders file a lawsuit in the 310th District Court (family law) alleging that Mayor Parker's policy violates the city's charter and Texas bans on same-sex marriage.   Judge Millard issues a temporary restraining order against the policy. (A temporary restraining order of this type may be granted without notice being given to the opposing party; in this case, the city if certain legal criteria are met).   The attorney who filed the case stated that he filed the suit in family court (which normally only hears divorces, adoptions, custody cases and the like) because the case relates to statutes which ban same-sex marriage and are contained in the Texas Family Code.

December 18, 2013:  The case is discussed in the last city county meeting of 2013.

December 27, 2013: The Houston City Attorney has the case moved from Houston family court to Federal court (due to the "Federal questions" presented in the case).

December 26, 2013:  The civil rights organization Lambda Legal files a federal lawsuit against Mayor Parker and the City of Houston on behalf of three City of Houston employees who are legally married to their same-sex spouses. These three employees had enrolled their spouses in City of Houston benefits. One month after enrolling them the benefits were withdrawn and cancelled, due to the restraining order of December 17, 2013.

January 9, 2014:   A Federal Judge will hear opening arguments in the case removed from family court. The Judge will be deciding whether or not the case should stay in Federal Court or return to State Court, and which judge will be hearing the case.

The two opposing sides will be arguing over whether the fundamental issue is one of federal or state law.  An important issue is the future protection and financial security of same-sex spouses affected by this case.

We will be watching this case closely!

Kalish Law Office- Since 1984
Family & Business Law
The Woodlands, Texas

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