Lambda Legal files lawsuit against city of Houston over spousal benefits

Upton.Ken

Ken Upton

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the city of Houston to ensure spouses of legally married same-sex couples will receive health benefits.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of three city employees after a challenge to the coverage forced them to withdraw and cancel the coverage.

Parker announced last month that the benefits would be extended in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But last week, state District Judge Lisa Millard signed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city of Houston from offering benefits to same-sex couples after the Harris County GOP chairman filed a lawsuit.

“City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses—at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work,” Ken Upton, senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal’s South Central office in Dallas, said in a statement. “These employees, some who have worked for the City for many years, acted in good faith when notified the City was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses.”

Noel Freeman, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and a president of Houston GLBT Political Caucus, is an administrative coordinator with the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering Office who has worked for the city for nine years. He and his husband, Brad, have been together for more than 11 years and were married in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

“The notice from the City was like a punch in the stomach. Brad and I were so excited when we learned we could enroll him on my plan that we signed him up within an hour of finding out,” Freeman said. “And now, just a month later, they tell us they’re going to have to take it away, that once again I will be paid less than my married heterosexual colleagues for the same work. How is this fair?”

The other plaintiffs in the suit are Yadira Estrada, a Houston police officer who married her partner of seven and a half years, Jennifer Flores, in Maine in June, and Ron Reeser, a systems administrator who married his husband, Vince Olivier, in Canada in 2008 after they had been together for three years.

Upton said the city’s refusal to implement the health benefits change and offer the benefits to same-sex spouses after they signed up for coverage is unfair.

“By refusing to recognize the legal marriage of same-sex couples for the purpose of providing employment benefits, the City deprives some Houston families of a critical safety net and financial security,” Upton said. “By stripping legally married gay and lesbian city employees of spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, the City not only inflicts severe hardship, but sends a signal that their families are less worthy than those of their coworkers. This the Constitution does not allow.”

—  Dallasvoice

Non-discrimination measure headed toward Houston voters

Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Noel Freeman

A coalition of organizations led by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus has announced plans to place a city-wide nondiscrimination charter amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would make it a misdemeanor to deny employment, housing or public accommodation to a person because of their “age, race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or physical characteristic.” The amendment would also allow the city of Houston in institute a “plus-one” health insurance system, allowing city employees to add an additional person to their city-provided healthcare coverage.

Currently in Houston (and in much of Texas) it is perfectly legal to discriminate against a person for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

In order to place the charter amendment on the ballot the group will need to collect 20,000 signatures from Houston citizens. Noel Freeman, president of the Caucus, says that the group has not  finalized the language of the proposed charter amendment adding they hope to begin collecting signatures within a few weeks.

Houston voters have rejected similar protections in the past, twice in 1985 and again in 2001 when a charter amendment banning domestic partner benefits passed. If recent polling data is to believed, however, the civic attitude may be changing. A 2010 poll conducted by the Glengariff group for Equality Texas, a statewide LGBT lobbying organization, indicates an overwhelming percentage of Houstonians support laws prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Respondents also indicated they supported extending domestic partner benefits to state employees. Here’s the data:

Would you support or oppose a law making it illegal to fire someone or deny housing in Texas to any person solely because he or she is gay or lesbian?

Houston: Strongly Support 68.4% Somewhat Support10.1% Somewhat Oppose 3.6% Strongly Oppose 14.6% Don’t Know 2.4%

Would you support or oppose a law making it illegal to fire or deny housing in Texas to any person solely because they are transgender?

Houston: Strongly Support 62.8% Somewhat Support 10.9% Somewhat Oppose 6.1% Strongly Oppose 15.8% Don’t Know 3.6%

Would you support or oppose extending domestic partnership benefits for things like health benefits to gay and lesbian employees that work for the government and public universities so that they match the same benefits offered to heterosexual employees?

Houston: Strongly Support 50.6% Somewhat Support 15.4% Somewhat Oppose 5.3% Strongly Oppose 21.9% Don’t Know 6.1%

Clearly Houston isn’t as homophobic of a city as some would suppose (we have elected lesbians to citywide office eleven times after all), and the public support for such a measure is obviously there. The question then is if the organizers behind the charter amendment can get enough people to the polls in November to pass it.

—  admin

Houston bigot Dave Wilson sends out another anti-gay mailer attacking Annise Parker

It was only a matter of time really: Dave Wilson is sending anti-gay letters (above) to Houstonians attacking Annise Parker, who’s seeking re-election in November.

Wilson, you may remember, is the homophobic electrician who sent 35,000 fliers like the one below to Houston homes during the 2009 elections with a picture of Parker’s swearing in for her previous position as City Comptroller, her partner Kathy Hubbard at her side. The 2009 fliers asked the question, “Is this the image Houston wants to portray?” To which Houston voters resoundingly replied, “Yes!” Parker became the first openly gay person elected mayor of a top 10 U.S. city.

Wilson’s latest attack is on a much smaller scale than his full color assault from 2009: It’s a personal letter sent to Parker’s donors and Houston Democratic precinct chairs. The letter, dated May 25, reads as follows:

—  admin