Texas gay marriage ban struck down

The Texas Tribune reports that Federal Judge in San Antonio has struck down Texas’ constitutional ban on gay marriage. The decision, written by Judge Orlando Garcia (an appointee of President Clinton), found the provision inconsistent with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which mandates equal protection and due process under law. Judge Garcia has served on the Federal Judiciary since 1994, and previously served both as a Justice on the State Court of Appeals (1991 to 1994) and as a member of the Texas House of Representatives (1983 to 1991). Both were elected offices he held as a Democrat.

Judge Garcia also stayed his own ruling, pending appeal. Attorney General Greg Abbott, one of the key defendants in this case, released a somewhat brief statement on the subject, wherein he declared his intention to appeal the case to the Federal Appeals Court. Of note is just how lightly Attorney General Abbott tread on the subject. Among his quotes were that there were “good, well meaning people” on either side of the issue. In my opinion, that was the most telling tidbit on the subject, to see hard-right Republicans such as Abbott realize and accept the inevitable, that this issue is not going away.

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Civil Affairs: Gay Marriage

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Over the past few weeks, state Sen. Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, has clarified her position on a number of issues, including the question of same-sex marriage. Almost nonchalantly, Davis lent her full support to the issue on Feb. 13.

“It’s my strong belief that when people love each other and are desirous of creating a committed relationship with each other that they should be allowed to marry, regardless of their sexual orientation,” Davis told the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News. Immediately, Davis’ liberal supporters celebrated her newly expressed support for what many call the new civil rights movement of our generation.

However, what is far more impressive than Davis’ support itself is how normal it all seems. In this day and age, the only Democratic officials who still oppose same-sex marriage are holdover Dixiecrats (the colloquialism for close-minded Southern Democrats who stood in opposition to the Civil Rights Act) with fiercely conservative social views, such as Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AK) or Joe Manchin (D-WV). This is an amazing transformation from four — or even two — years ago, when Democrats, particularly in Texas, were enormously cautious on the subject. While many other Democratic gubernatorial candidates over the years have been unabashedly progressive on other gay rights issues, Davis is the first to lend full support to marriage equality on the campaign trail.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT THE DAILY TEXAN!

Davis for gay marriage

The San Antonio Express-News reports that, earlier today while addressing the paper’s editorial board, State Senator Wendy Davis (the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor) explicitly announced her support for gay marriage for the first time. Further, she expressed her opposition to continued support of Texas’ Defense of Marriage Act against suits in Federal Courts and called on her opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, to stop defending what she called an unconstitutional law.

It’s my strong belief that when people love each other and are desirous of creating a committed relationship with each other that they should be allowed to marry, regardless of their sexual orientation,” Davis told the paper. “I think it’s important, and I think that people across this country are evolving on [gay marriage] and moving in a direction that demonstrates support for it, so I think it is time to re-open that conversation and ask Texans where they are on it to see if that’s something that we might change legislatively if it doesn’t happen constitutionally.”

The news quickly reached back to Abbott’s campaign, who were very keen to criticize the Davis campaign. A spokesperson called support for gay marriage “the latest whim of the day,” and blasted Davis for instituting “Obama-style” approach to politics. For better or for worse, the idea of state officials picking not a defend state laws or provisions is a tradition that has recently been explicitly condoned by the Supreme Court, specifically in the 2013 case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, wherein both the Governor and Attorney General of California declined to defend the constitutionality of Prop 8.

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Mayor Parker gets married

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Someone’s personal life is not an especially newsworthy occurrence. I wish it was not such a big deal, but it still is. Obviously, I wish Mayor Parker and the First Lady an everlasting and happy marriage.

As for Jared Woodfill, the Chairman of the HCRP who went on TV last night to berate the Mayor, I only have this to say. For what it is worth, Parker’s wife has her own health insurance, meaning the couple will not benefit from the recent rule change.

Brains & Eggs, Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist have more.

The Harris County GOP Chairman race

The Houston Chronicle reports that County Judge Ed Emmett has endorsed Paul Simpson in his race for chairman of the Harris County GOP, against incumbent Jared Woodfill. Emmett, a Republican, is the highest ranking member of the county party, holding the de facto executive leadership role over Harris County.

The news was broken last night on Quorum Report, where it was also reported that Emmett had donated a generous $10,000.00 to Simpson’s campaign. As the astute may recall, this is Simpson’s –a local attorney– third bid against the incumbent chair. However, unlike a previous race, this year’s election simply features the two candidates, making Woodfill somewhat more vulnerable. Emmett blasted Woodfill as being out of touch and implicit in the recent losing streak of the party. Ronald Reagan would probably not be welcome in today’s Republican Party. I would like to see the base in Harris County to be 400,000, not 150,000,” Emmett says.

Today, Jared Woodfill hit back by announcing some big name supporters of his own. Two of the three Republican Harris County Commissioners (Jack Cagle and Jack Morman) endorsed Woodfill’s candidacy, as did both Emmett’s predecessor (Robert Eckels) and the Tax Assessor (Mike Sullivan). Given that Woodfill is the incumbent, it would be a waste of time to really dig in too deep as to why an officeholder might support him. Simply put, it is far safer to support an incumbent out of habit then warm up to the challenger (if [s]he wins) than to support the challenger then face a victorious incumbent.

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Civil Affairs: Houston issues

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This past Thursday, I was lucky enough to be standing in the press box at the Wortham Center to watch Annise Parker’s third and final inauguration. I would be remiss if I did not note that other officeholders –namely City Controller Ronald Green– also took their oaths, but considering how strong the Mayor in Houston is, it truly is a non-issue.

The Mayor, in this case Parker, unilaterally sets the agenda and determines when to vote on things. She also has extremely broad powers to take any number of executive actions on her own. We saw this recently with the issue of full benefits to the same-sex spouses of City employees. We have also seen Parker continue to act more decisively in enacting major ordinances and presiding over the Council with an iron fist.

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TRO on Pidgeon lifted

The case of Pidgeon v. Parker, in which Republicans sued the City of Houston over a new policy granting full spousal benefits to all legally married couples with a member working for the municipality (read: same-sex couples), has seen its temporary restraining order blocking the enforcement of the policy lifted. Last month, a Family District Judge granted the order, but the case was recently moved to Federal Court.

Now, the Houston Chronicle reports that Judge Lee Rosenthal (a Bush 41 appointee) has lifted that order, at least for the time being. While the Family Judge’s (Lisa Millard) ruling indicated there to be a high likelihood of the plaintiffs prevailing on the merits, Judge Rosenthal’s decision simply means the case will go on and may very well have a trial. Jared Woodfill, the Chairman of the Harris County GOP and the plaintiff’s attorney, was quick to play this difference as somewhat insignificant in the long run:

Judge Millard’s position was that the Mayor’s actions were illegal and unlawful and she immediately restrained the Mayor from going forward. This judge has not decided whether the Mayor’s actions were illegal, so she gave us more time to do additional briefing,” Woodfill said.

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Pidgeon case moved to Federal Court

Texpatriate has learned that the case of Pidgeon v. Parker, in which local Republican sued to block a recent City policy that extends full spousal benefits to same-sex spouses of municipal employees, has been removed to a Federal Court. The case, which was initially filed in a local Family District Court, resulted in the granting of a temporary restraining order by a Republican Judge (Lisa Millard), blocking the enforcement of the measure until a hearing next month. This meant couples that had already signed up under the new policy would be out of luck, prompting one such couple to sue the City of Houston in Federal Court themselves.

The Pidgeon case’s initial complaint dealt with Mayor Parker allegedly violating the Texas Constitution, Texas Family Code and the Houston City Charter. Thus, its placement in the Family District Court, as opposed to a Civil District Court that typically deals with constitutional complaints. City Attorney David Feldman has now responded by filing a notice of removal to place the case in Federal Court since it deals with substantial federal questions, including guarantees of equal protection and due process. Parker and Feldman first extended the aforementioned spousal benefits in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act.

Click here to read more about the implications of this lawsuit!

Mayor Parker gets engaged

Texpatriate has learned that Mayor Annise Parker will marry her longtime partner next month in California. Parker, who has long definitively stated that she planned on getting hitched only when Texas legalized gay marriage, reportedly altered her tune in recent days.

Mayor Parker has been together with her partner, Kathy Hubbard, for over 20 years and the duo has now raised three adoptive children. Back in August, when CNN covered the Mayoral race, they quoted the Mayor saying that she wants to get married “in her City.” However, a recent Houston Chronicle article on this topic notes that she may have changed her mind somewhat substantially in light of the recent transitions.

The wedding will be held in “mid-January” in Palm Springs, California. We will report more when we receive additional information.

Freeman sues City of Houston

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.

Click here to read more about the implications of this lawsuit!