Judge Sides With Texas Over Labor Dept. | Courthouse News Service
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Judge Sides With Texas Over Labor Dept.

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (CN) - A federal judge refused to lift a preliminary injunction against a Department of Labor rule forcing Texas to recognize same-sex couples married in other states.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor denied the federal government's motion Friday, according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Texas sued the United States and the Department of Labor on March 18, challenging the Labor Department's definition of spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act, to include same-sex unions from out-of-state.

Set to begin on March 27, the rule requires employers to allow the same FMLA leave rights given to heterosexual couples.

Enacted in 1993, the FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for family or medical reasons, including family emergencies or childbirth.

Texas sued because its voters banned gay marriage via a constitutional amendment in November 2005, defining marriage as between a man and woman. Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska have joined the lawsuit .

Paxton said O'Connor "rightfully stopped this unconstitutional" rule from taking effect, saying that Texas will "continue to defend our sovereignty in this case" to stop the Obama administration's "effort to override our laws via federal rulemaking."

"No federal agency has the power to rewrite the laws of Congress, and the Department of Labor's regulatory attempt to redefine marriage in Texas infringes upon our state sovereignty and violates the U.S. Constitution," Paxton said in a statement Friday.

"Furthermore, it would essentially strong-arm employers to choose to either violate federal regulations or state law."

In his lawsuit, Paxton claimed the rule violates the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor, which "struck down federal interference with state law governing domestic relations."

In imposing the injunction on March 26, O'Connor concluded that states have "met their burden" to show the public interest supports the injunction.

"The court recognizes the burden that individuals requesting spousal leave encounter, and this order does not prohibit employers from granting leave to those who request leave to care for a loved one," the 24-page opinion stated. "However, a preliminary injunction must issue to prevent the Department from mandating enforcement of its Final Rule against the states. The public maintains an abiding interest in preserving the rule of law and enforcing the states' duly enacted laws from federal encroachment."

Paxton claims the rule "places an enormous burden" on employers to decide on same-sex couple leave requests that have been made without the guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court or 5th Circuit.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio struck down the state's gay marriage ban in February 2014. That case is on appeal.

"Employers in Texas will be called upon to decide issues that the Supreme Court has not yet decided, and those employers do so without the benefit of briefing and oral arguments for the full presentation of the issues on both sides," Texas's complaint stated.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Dallas County ignored the state's opposition and granted same-sex couple medical leave rights for its employees.

The changes to Dallas County Code do not explicitly allow same-sex employees to take FMLA leave because of the state's gay marriage ban. But county employees can select anyone as a "designated care recipient." The designated person must be in need of care, ill or incapacitated. It could be a boy- or girlfriend, a close friend or a neighbor.

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