Today, Mayor Annise Parker announced a new policy aimed at extending equal rights and protections to LGBT Houstonians. While domestic partnerships (i.e., benefits given to unmarried same-sex partners who work for the municipality) are banned by charter amendment within the City of Houston, Parker’s administration poked a hole in this policy.
Citing the recent Supreme Court case Windsor v. US, which overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the City of Houston announced that they will extend full spousal benefits to the same-sex spouses of any municipal worker. While the State of Texas bans gay marriage, a full 17 States, the District of Columbia, multiple American Indian Tribes and at least 18 foreign countries do not. Individuals who work for the City of Houston married in those jurisdictions, even if they did not reside there, qualify for the benefits.
Speaking to reporters on the topic, Mayor Parker argued that not only was this the right thing to do, but the legally prudent option as well. City Attorney David Feldman also provided a great deal of legal cover for the decision, mainly relying upon the Windsor opinion.
“Based on the right to equal protection under the law, it is unconstitutional for the city to continue to deny benefits to the same-sex spouses of our employees who are legally married. This change is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right, just and fair thing to do.” –PARKER
The policy was quick to note that it does not apply to domestic partnerships. Since no State in the Union had legalized gay marriage when the charter amendment was approved in 2001, this was the main original intent of the legislation. Accordingly, individuals such as Annise Parker –who are not legally married in any State– will not be affected. Last August, when Parker was interviewed by CNN, she stated her desire to be married in the City of Houston. “Her city” she said.
While Parker was not affected by the new policy, many high-profile members of the political community were. Noel Freeman; the President of the GLBT Caucus, a former City Council candidate and a municipal employee; and his husband were reportedly the first couple to receive the benefits.
I have not yet heard the grumblings of Republicans and State officials in response to this new policy, but I imagine it will be somewhat harsh. I will not be surprised if Greg Abbott tries to make an issue out of this on the campaign trail, as he did with other domestic partnerships earlier this year.
A comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance now looks to be the next priority of Mayor Parker’s. Earlier this month, the Mayor spoke broadly of pushing for such an ordinance in the near-future.
Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle has more.