Some excellent news coming out of Houston today.
Our city will now join the ranks of other major Texas cities--such as Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, and San Antonio--that offer benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees. Same-sex marriages are obviously illegal under the Texas constitution, but as long as the city employee and his or her partner are legally married in a state recognizing marriage equality, they will now enjoy important benefits here in Houston. Domestic partners are not included under this new policy--only legally married couples. The newly available benefits include health and life insurance previously available only to heterosexual couples.
Not only great news for married same-sex couples who had been shut out of the benefits that had long been available to opposite-sex couples, but also an open defiance of anti-gay Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has made his position on these locally-provided same-sex benefits more than clear.
From the statement posted by Parker's office:
Mayor Annise Parker today announced that the city will begin offering benefits to all legally married spouses of city employees. This will apply to same-sex couples who have been married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. The mayor’s decision is based on a city legal department interpretation of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and other relevant case law from the around the country.Parker, who is an out lesbian and the only openly LGBT mayor of a major American city, was just elected to her third and final term. Yes, elections matter.
A 2001 voter-approved City Charter amendment has previously been relied upon as the basis for prohibiting the granting of same-sex benefits. However, the amendment specifically permits benefits to be provided to “legal spouses” of employees. After a careful review of recent case law, the city legal department believes continued application of the charter amendment so as to deny same-sex spousal benefits would be unlawful because it treats employees differently on the basis of sexual orientation.
“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,” said Mayor Parker. “This change is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right, just and fair thing to do.”
The decision, of course, was in defiance of Attorney General Greg Abbott's recent opinion regarding domestic partner benefits being offered by individual Texas cities. In April, Abbott issued a six-page opinion stating that he believes such benefits are illegal under the Texas constitution. Isn't that precious. Abbott, who is hoping to be governor in 2014, is putting himself on the wrong side of history and public opinion on this issue.
Kudos to Mayor Parker and the same-sex couples affected by this decision. Now, if we could only get a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance...