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Texas Sues USA Over Gay Marriage Benefits

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (CN) - Texas sued the United States on Wednesday, challenging Department of Labor rules that would make it recognize same-sex couples who were married in another state.

Attorney General Ken Paxton claims that extending Family and Medical Leave Act benefits to same-sex couples would violate the Texas Constitution.

Paxton sued the United States and the Department of Labor in Federal Court.

Texas voters banned gay marriage via a constitutional amendment in November 2005, defining marriage as between a man and woman.

The Department of Labor recently changed its rule defining what a spouse is under the FMLA to recognize 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.

"By attempting to sideline Texas law by agency rule and require Texas employers grant FMLA spousal care benefits to individuals in relationships not recognized as marriage in Texas, the Department's action flies in the face of the Supreme Court's ruling in [United States v.] Windsor, which struck down federal interferences with state law governing domestic relations," Paxton's lawsuit states.

"The rule is also contrary to the federal full faith and credit statute, invalidly attempts to abrogate the states' sovereign immunity and invalidly attempts to preempt Texas domestic-relations law."

Earlier versions of the rule defined a "spouse" as "a husband or wife" defined under state law "for purposes of marriage in states where it is recognized," Texas says.

It claims the federal full faith and credit statute gives Texas the right to disregard same-sex marriages under state policy, but the new rule forces the state's employers to acknowledge them.

Texas 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. The 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," Paxton's complaint states.

Paxton said the lawsuit is about "defending the sovereignty of our state" against the "unlawful overreach" of the federal government.

"The newly revised definition of 'spouse' under the FMLA is in direct violation of state and federal laws and U.S. Constitution," Paxton said in a statement. "Texans have clearly defined the institution of marriage in our state, and attempts by the Obama Administration to disregard the will of our citizens through the use of new federal rules is unconstitutional and an affront to the foundations of federalism."

Texas seeks temporary and permanent injunctions, and declaratory judgment under the Administrative Procedure Act.

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