Lambda Legal and co-counsel Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP filed a federal lawsuit today (Thursday, Aug. 10) against Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city of Houston, on behalf of three married couples, to preserve health coverage and other benefits for the same-sex spouses of city employees.
Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell ruling declaring marriage equality to be law nationwide, these benefits were put at risk after two taxpayers convinced the Texas Supreme Court that Texas cities could deny married same-sex couples the rights of marriage, according to a press release issued this morning by Lambda Legal.
The Texas Supreme Court issued its ruling in the other case, Pidgeon v. Parker, in late June.
Kenneth Upton, senior counsel in Lambda Legal’s Dallas-based South Central Regional Office, said, “Our clients are angered by the notion that in 2017 their marriages would be deemed inferior to other marriages. Today we are standing up for lesbian, gay, and bisexual Houston city workers and their same-sex spouses against those who seek to demean and diminish them.”
In Freeman v. Turner and City of Houston, Lambda Legal and Morgan Lewis are representing Noel Freeman, Yadira Estrada and Ron Reeser.
Freeman is division manager with the city of Houston Public Works & Engineering Office and a 13-year employee of the city. He married his husband, Brad Pritchett, in Washington, D.C. in 2010.
Estrada has been a city of Houston police officer for 10 years. She married her partner, Jennifer Flores, in Maine in June 2013, after they had been together for seven years.
Reeser is a systems administrator for the city and 12-year city employee. He married his husband, Vince Olivier, after they had been together for three years.
The lawsuit also asks the federal district court to prevent the city of Houston from compelling repayment of employee benefits already provided.
Upton said that Freeman v. Turner is similar to a lawsuit Lambda Legal filed four years ago against Houston and then-Mayor Annise Parker in response to Pidgeon, which blocked Mayor Parker from extending benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees. At that time, city officials had determined that an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling, U.S. v. Windsor, striking down part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, required that benefits be equally available to the legal different-sex or same-sex spouses of city employees.
A Texas state district judge ruled in favor of the taxpayers, but the Texas Court of Appeals overturned that decision in the wake of the Obergefell ruling. Also after Obergefell, Lambda Legal settled and dismissed its original Freeman lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in Pidgeon, however, petitioned the Texas Supreme Court for review. Although the Texas Supreme Court initially declined to hear the case, in the fall of 2016, the court reversed itself following a concerted lobbying effort that included amicus briefs from Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, and reinstated the taxpayers’ lawsuit.