Houston Challenges Texas Supreme Court Over Same-Sex Spousal Benefits

Earlier this summer the Texas Supreme Court ruled in Pidgeon v. Parker that the Obergefell decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which legally recognized same-sex marriages, did not determine whether gay couples are entitled to the same spousal benefits of opposite-sex married couples.

The city of Houston, however, says the 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges did conclude that any rights/benefits attached to marriage must be equally provided to all married couples, straight or gay.

So, Houston has filed a petition asking SCOTUS to review the state court’s ruling and determine once and for all the constitutional rights guaranteed under Obergefell.

For now, the city of Houston will continue to provide spousal benefits to all married city employees.


Attorney General Loretta Lynch Announces Full Federal Benefits For All Married Same-Sex Couples

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch today announced that the U.S. government will now extend all federal rights and benefits of marriage to legally married same-sex couples:

“Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell that every couple has the same right to participate in the institution of marriage, whether the partners are of the same-sex or opposite sexes, I directed Justice Department staff to work with the agencies to ensure that the ruling be given full effect across the federal government. Thanks to their leadership and the quick work of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, today I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide. The agencies are currently working towards providing guidance to implement this change in law.

“Just over a year ago, Attorney General Holder announced that agencies across the federal government had implemented the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision by treating married same-sex couples the same as married opposite-sex couples to the greatest extent possible under the law as it then stood. With the Supreme Court’s new ruling that the Constitution requires marriage equality, we have now taken the further step of ensuring that all federal benefits will be available equally to married couples in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the US Territories. The department will continue to work across the administration to fulfill our commitment to equal treatment for all Americans, including equal access to the benefits of marriage that the Obergefell decision guarantees.”

Veterans Administration Confirms Benefits For Same-Sex Married Couples

Dalan Wells and Sgt. Brandon Morgan

From the Washington Blade:

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage across the country, the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday confirmed it’s set to issue spousal benefits to gay, lesbian and bisexual veterans regardless of their state of residence.

Walinda West, a VA spokesperson, told the Washington Blade the ruling striking down all state bans on same-sex marriage allows the department to “recognize the same-sex marriage of all veterans” anywhere in the United States.

“VA will work quickly to ensure that all offices and employees are provided guidance on implementing this important decision with respect to all programs, statutes, and regulations administered by VA,” West said.

Arkansas: Judge Orders The State To Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Performed Last Year

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a ruling today instructing Arkansas state officials to recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in-state last year during a window of time that marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples.

The result of the order means those 500+ couples will have access to many benefits such as filing taxes jointly and enrolling in state health insurance plans.

From ABC News:

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down as unconstitutional a 2004 voter-approved same-sex marriage ban and an earlier state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Justices suspended his decision a week later, halting the marriages.

The attorney general’s office argued before Griffen Monday that the marriages weren’t valid because Piazza’s initial ruling didn’t specifically strike down a state law barring clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Piazza struck down that law in a subsequent ruling six days later.

Griffen rejected that argument, saying it was clear that Piazza meant to strike down any prohibition on same-sex marriage.

“Put simply, Judge Piazza’s intent in his May 9 order was to stop the state of Arkansas from prohibiting same-sex couples from being married,” he wrote.

HRC Arkansas State Director Kendra R. Johnson issued this statement:

“Virtually every day, we continue to see tremendous signs of progress toward realizing the dream of marriage equality for gay and lesbian Arkansans.

“While we await a final decision by the United States Supreme Court to resolve the issue of marriage equality nationwide once and for all, Judge Griffen’s ruling demonstrates yet again the unmistakable momentum of LGBT equality in the Natural State.”

Russia Fails In Attempt To Block Benefits To Same-Sex Married United Nations Staffers

By a vote of 80-43 (37 abstaining), the United Nations blocked a proposal from Russia to deny benefits to UN staffers who are legally married.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had led a proposal to offer benefits to all spouses of legally-wed gay UN staffers.

The AP reports:

Currently, family benefits for U.N. staff members are determined by their country of origin. The secretary-general’s plan will give family benefits to all staffers who are legally married — regardless of the laws on same-sex marriage in their home countries.

The secretary-general has been an outspoken supporter of gay rights.

Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, India, Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria joined Russia in opposing the benefits.

Texas: State Judge Orders Houston To Stop Providing Same-Sex Benefits

A Texas state judge has ordered the city of Houston to stop providing benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, according to Lone Star Q, but the city says a prior federal judge’s ruling trumps the state ruling:

State District Judge Lisa Millard issued a temporary restraining order halting the benefits Wednesday in response to a request from former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill, who has filed a second lawsuit against Mayor Annise Parker and the city over her decision to extend benefits to same-sex spouses.

In August, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake ordered the city to continue offering the benefits pending a final determination on the constitutionality of Texas’ same-sex marriage ban, likely to come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ken Upton, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, told Lone Star Q last week that the federal judge’s decision would override any decision from a state court.

“The US Constitution’s Supremacy Clause clearly provides that a decision based on federal law trumps a conflicting decision based on only state law,” Upton said last week. “This is a foundational principle that every first-year law student learns and is beyond question or doubt.”

Federal Government Officially Recognizes Marriage Equality In The Latest Six States With Same-Sex Marriage

US Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the federal government now officially recognizes same-sex marriage in six states where the freedom to marry recently became legal (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming).

From LGBTQ Nation:

The government’s announcement follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month to decline to hear appeals from five states that sought to keep their marriage bans in place. It brings the total number of states with federal recognition of gay marriage to 32, plus the District of Columbia.

Couples married in these states will qualify for a range of federal benefits, including Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

“With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving full equality for all Americans,” Holder said.

The attorney general said the government is working “as quickly as possible” to make sure same-sex married couples in these states receive the “fullest array of benefits” that federal law allows.

At this writing, in the United States, same-sex marriage is legal in 32 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming), and in the District of Columbia.