KPRC reports that a local couple has sued the City of Houston after their full spousal benefits have been revoked. As the astute may recall, last month Mayor Parker announced that all legally married couples (includes those of the same-sex) could provide full spousal benefits from the City if one member of the couple worked for the municipality. Only three couples initially signed up for these benefits, including Noel Freeman (a City employee) and Brad Pritchett. Many will probably remember Freeman, the President of the Houston GLBT Caucus and previous candidate for the City Council, and Pritchett, an official with the Harris County Democratic Party. Shortly thereafter, officials with the Harris County GOP sued the City of Houston in attempt to enjoin the offering of these benefits; they were successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order to this effect until mid-January.
Accordingly, even though Freeman and others had begun paying the City higher premiums to ensure their lawfully wedded spouses had received the benefits, these benefits had been stopped indefinitely. In response to this injustice, the couple (as well as two others) has sued the City of Houston in Federal Court over being deprived of the equal protection and due process. As the Channel 2 article notes, the original suit that prompted the TRO will come up for full oral arguments in January.
I have long argued that the Federal Courts are the much better avenue for these sorts of disputes in Texas. Most judges in Harris County are Republican, but there are simply no Democrats at the top. The Texas Supreme Court consists of 9 Republicans and 0 Democrats, and I do not think any of the former have especially progressive stances on gay rights. In sharp contrast, the Federal Courts consist of Clinton and Obama appointees at every level of the system, including a Supreme Court with a rough-majority of gay friendly Justices.
As for a timeline on these sorts of things, I truly have no idea. It is anybody’s guess. As the recent brouhaha over the unexpected gay marriages in Utah has taught us, things can truly start moving quite fast nobody is looking.