Gay Workers Sue Houston for Spousal Benefits

HOUSTON (CN) - Three city workers sued Houston, seeking restoration of benefits to their same-sex spouses, which were stripped by a state court's temporary restraining order.
     Noel Freeman, an administrator in Houston's public works department, Yadira Estrada, a Houston cop, and Ronald Reeser, a city IT administrator, sued Houston and its Mayor Annise Parker, in Federal Court.
     They sued in response to a temporary restraining order issued on Dec. 17 by Judge Lisa Millard of Harris County's 310th Family District Court.
     The order, which was filed under seal, directs Mayor Parker and Houston "to cease and desist providing benefits to same-sex spouses of employees that have been married in jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage."
     In issuing the order Millard was swayed by the two plaintiffs' argument that spousal benefits for gay and lesbian Houston employees is potentially an "unlawful policy" and a "violation of the city of Houston's charter."
     The lead plaintiff in the request for the restraining order was Jack Pidgeon, pastor at the West Houston Christian Center.
     A hearing on the restraining order is set for Jan. 6, 2014.
     Same-sex marriages are not recognized in Texas.
     After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, Parker requested a legal opinion from the city attorney on whether Houston could continue denying benefits to same-sex spouses of city workers.
     "The Houston city attorney issued an opinion concluding that the city could not ... continue to deny benefits covering same-sex spouses of city employees who legally married in another jurisdiction," the complaint states.
     Since the November policy change, Freeman, Estrada and Reeser are the only city employees to enroll their same-gender spouses for benefits.
     They claim the denial of benefits violates their civil rights.
     "The selective withdrawal of spousal coverage from lesbian and gay city employees - while leaving family coverage intact for non-gay city employees with a legally
     recognized spouse - will deny each plaintiff equal compensation for equal work and discriminatorily inflict upon each plaintiff and his or her spouse anxiety, stress, risk of untreated or inadequately treated health problems, and potentially ruinous financial burdens," the employees say in the lawsuit.
     They want the Texas Marriage Act and Texas Defense of Marriage law declared unconstitutional and an injunction ordering Parker to restore benefits to their spouses.
     They are represented by Kenneth D. Upton Jr. with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in Dallas.