Texas, Others Cave on|Gay Marriage Benefits

     WICHITA FALLS, Texas (CN) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has quit his federal lawsuit against same-sex marriage benefits, four weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.
     Paxton sued Uncle Sam in March over the Department of Labor’s extension of Family and Medical Leave Act benefits to same-sex couples married in other states. He claimed the new rule would violate the Texas Constitution. Texas voters banned gay marriage via constitutional amendment in November 2005, defining marriage as between a man and woman.
     Paxton, a Republican, filed to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit Friday. He was joined by attorneys general from Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Nebraska, who had joined the lawsuit.
     “On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges , 2015 WL 2473451 (U.S. 2015) and thus resolving all substantive issues raised in this lawsuit,” the filing states. “As a result, plaintiffs will no longer prosecute their action against defendants, and file this notice voluntarily dismissing all claims against defendants without necessity of court order pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i). All costs, fees and expenses shall be borne by the party incurring same.”
     U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor had given Paxton two early victories in the lawsuit, imposing a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the rule on March 26 and refusing the federal government’s request to lift it on April 10.
     Paxton said in March that the rule change “places an enormous burden” on employers to decide on same-sex couple leave requests made without guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court or Fifth Circuit.
     “It would essentially strong-arm employers to choose to either violate federal regulations or state law,” he said at the time.
     Texas has spent more than $26,000 in legal costs on the case, according to the Texas Tribune.
     Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said Tuesday, “Our filing speaks for itself.”
     Paxton faced heavy criticism for issuing a non-binding advisory opinion after Obergefell, urging county clerks and judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses if it is against their religious beliefs. He acknowledged that such action would probably result in lawsuits.
     Paxton said at the time the Supreme Court “again ignored the text and spirit” of the Constitution in legalizing same-sex marriage and “manufacture[d] a right” that does not exist.
     “In so doing, the Court weakened itself and weakened the rule of law, but did nothing to weaken our resolve to protect religious liberty and return to democratic self-government in the face of judicial activists attempting to tell us how to live,” he said. “Now hundreds of Texas public officials are seeking guidance on how to implement what amounts to a lawless decision by an activist Court while adhering both to their respective faiths and their responsibility to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.”
     In North Texas, Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, a Republican, cited Paxton’s opinion when she initially refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses in defiance of Obergefell .
     She changed her mind, but cited a weeks-long delay in getting updated marriage license forms from the state. She was forced to issue a same-sex marriage license on existing forms after she was sued in Fort Worth Federal Court by a Hood County gay couple who said they were “humiliated” by Lang’s office’s rejections .
     In East Texas, Rusk County Clerk Joyce Lewis-Kugle quit two weeks ago rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses. She was advised by Rusk County District Attorney Michael Jimerson to comply with the Supreme Court ruling or resign. Jimerson told her she could follow Paxton’s recommendation, but would likely be sued .
     A Texas Democratic Party executive filed a professional conduct grievance with the State Bar of Texas on June 30 against Paxton, saying it is irresponsible and unethical for an attorney and elected official to tell other elected officials to break the law.

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