Houston Offers Benefits to Employees' Same-Sex Spouses

Mayor Annise Parker says this is the constitutional and right thing to do; meanwhile, Houston's county takes steps to protect LGBT prisoners.

BY Trudy Ring

November 21 2013 8:05 PM ET

Mayor Annise Parker

The city of Houston will begin offering health and life insurance to legally married same-sex spouses of municipal employees, Mayor Annise Parker announced Wednesday.

Parker based her executive order on a legal opinion by city attorney David Feldman, who said it was in keeping with the equal protection guarantees cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the ruling that gutted the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June, the Houston Chronicle reports.

“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,” Parker said. “This change is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right, just and fair thing to do.”

Parker and Feldman also said they believe Texas’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution and should be superseded by the federal government’s steps to recognize same-sex marriages since the Supreme Court ruling.

Houston also has a clause in its city charter, approved by voters in 2001, that prohibits the city from offering benefits “to persons other than employees, their legal spouses and dependent children.” But legal spouses, Parker and Feldman said, would include same-sex spouses who entered into marriages in any of the cities, states, or nations that offer legal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Parker's partner of 24 years, Kathy Hubbard, would not be eligible for the benefits because they are not legally married. Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., is the largest with an openly gay or lesbian mayor.

In another positive move, Harris County, which includes Houston, has adopted a wide-ranging policy designed to guarantee equal treatment of LGBT inmates. The policy, announced last week, allows transgender inmates to be housed with the prisoners of the gender that matches their identity and “states that ‘discrimination or harassment of any kind based on sexual orientation or gender identity is strictly prohibited,’” the Associated Press reports.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s staff described it as one of the nation’s most comprehensive antidiscrimination policies regarding inmates. Harris County has the third-largest county jail in the U.S., behind only Los Angeles County and Cook County, which includes Chicago. Several other large jail systems have taken steps to prevent anti-LGBT discrimination, harassment, and assault, in keeping with federal government directives.

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