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!

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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KPRC reports that a local couple has sued the City of Houston after their full spousal benefits have been revoked.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!

Full spousal benefits

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.

Click here to read Parker’s comments as well as the implications for the City!

Horwitz on City Council candidates

The following was a proposed Editorial that failed to receive enough support to be published under the board’s authorship. The author of the rejected Editorial has now elected to share his opinions individually:

With the 83rd Legislature now out of the way, all eyes are upon Municipal politics, specifically the City Council elections. By my count, there are currently 53 candidates for City Hall offices this November. Among these candidates are extremely diverse political ideologies, creating odd coalitions on many different issues. However, at the end of the day, partisan affiliation is still the best indicator of voting patterns and ideology on the ostensibly non-partisan City Council.

There is a Democratic Mayor, a Democratic City Controller, At-large City Councilmembers consisting of 3 Democrats & 2 Republicans and District Councilmembers consisting of 7 Democrats and 4 Republicans. While Houston has had a Democratic Mayor since the 1970s, the partisan makeup of the City Council was not always so simple, and sometimes took on odd shapes of its own. For example, between the 2007 and 2009 elections, all five At-large City Councilmembers were Democrats, while a smaller assortment of District Councilmembers consisted of 5 Republicans & 4 Democrats. This could have been easily attributed to gerrymandered maps, which, in turn, were gerrymandered for the (white) Democrats preceding the 2011 elections.

All this aside, the most perplexing idiosyncrasy of Houston’s municipal politics is the rampant, unyielding and plain troubling disregard for the 11th Commandment: Thou Shall Not Speak Ill of Any Fellow Democrat. Instead of uniting against Republicans, the best and brightest tend to just go after each other, sometimes to the detriment of other, more important, contests.

For too long, two Democratic groups in Houston have gone at each others’ necks: African-Americans and White Upper-Class Intelligentsia, dominated by Gays & Lesbians. Both groups have engaged in horribly homophobic and/or racist tactics. Most Democratic-dominated contests in Houston tend to be a contest between groups, whether it be Annise Parker vs. Ben Hall, Lane Lewis vs. Keryl Douglas, Steven Kirkland vs. Elaine Palmer, Kristi Thibaut vs. Andrew Burks, Noel Freeman vs. C.O. Bradford, or old contests between Burks & Lovell or Locke & Parker.

To me, the conflict is most exemplified this year by the race in At-large #2, where incumbent Councilmember Andrew Burks is being challenged by David Robinson, a local architect. While I have had plenty of quarrels with Councilmember Burks in the past, and may very well end up supporting Robinson in November, it pains me to see such a race, not because of what decision Robinson made, but because of what decision Robinson did not make.

Burks has not been a perfect Councilmember, but he is still a nominally liberal Democrat. The at-large section of Houston’s City Council is home to not one, but two, Republicans: Stephen Costello and Jack Christie. While the former, Councilmember Costello, is extremely moderate if not progressive, the latter, Councilmember Christie, is not. Christie served for years on the State Board of Education, you know, that same organization that believes the world is 9000 years old and other such gems as the redaction of controversial, anti-Christian characters like Thomas Jefferson.

Christie is untruthful as well. In preparation of his 2011 campaign, he libeled my friend Neil Aquino of Texas Liberal, incorrectly claiming his endorsement, in a spectacle that was rebuked by the Houston Chronicle. Christie is also well-versed in the Republican tradition of uttering asinine statements, such as that “you don’t die” from influenza, and inoculations should be resisted.

Councilmember Christie, despite this troubling past and frightening tenure on the City Council, is currently running unopposed in November for a second term. This tells me that serious, legitimate candidates like David Robinson were specifically coaxed into challenging fellow Democrats such as Burks rather than Republicans like Christie.

Unfortunately, the trend is not limited to this race. Keryl Douglas, the homophobic attorney who unsuccessfully challenged Lane Lewis’ chairmanship at the Harris County Democratic Party, recently announced she would be running for Mayor, though I have yet to find one concrete piece of her platform. Again, rather than challenge the unopposed Republican on the City Council, Douglas felt it most compelling to challenge the Democratic mayor.

What is it that these Democrats find so offensive about their fellow kind? I do not want to think that, within Democratic politics, that members of the African-American community are homophobic or that members of the GLBT & Friends community is racist, but I fear it may be the case. For the sake of our city, I hope I am wrong.

UPDATE: I added a few filler words to clarify my last statement. I was not attempting to insinuate that the institutions are actively discriminatory or prejudicial, but that action of individual members of the respective communities may be based, in part, by animus.