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Lambda Legal seeks to combine lawsuits over Houston same-sex couple benefits

Lambda Legal seeks to combine lawsuits over Houston same-sex couple benefits

HOUSTON — Lambda Legal on Thursday asked a U.S. District Court judge to combine two separate lawsuits filed against Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the City of Houston, one seeking to prevent and the other to preserve spousal benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees.

Houston mayor Annise Parker
Houston mayor Annise Parker

The lawsuits center around a Nov. 20 announcement by Parker that all legally-married city employees, including those who married same-sex partners in jurisdictions where such marriages are legal, would be eligible to enroll for spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, under the city’s employee benefits health plan.

On Dec. 17, a family court judge blocked the city of Houston from providing the benefits in response to a lawsuit filed by Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill, on behalf of two taxpayers — plaintiffs Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks.

According to Lambda Legal, the order was issued without giving the Mayor or the City proper notice, and the plaintiffs secured a temporary restraining order blocking extension of the benefits.

On Dec. 26, Lambda Legal filed a federal suit against Parker and the City of Houston in the U.S. District Court on behalf three city employees married to their same-sex spouses after the city notified them that the benefits they signed up for would be discontinued.

On Dec. 27, the city moved the taxpayer’s lawsuit out of family court to the U.S. District Court, and a federal declined to extend the original restraining order or issue a new one until after a hearing on Jan. 2.

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Lambda Legal is asking the court to consolidate the two cases, and has previously filed a motion to intervene in the taxpayers’ lawsuit in case the court decides not to consolidate the two.

“The couples in our lawsuit stand to lose a great deal if the spousal benefits are removed and so their interests must be represented in the case brought by antigay taxpayers that challenges the City’s right to extend the benefits,” said Kenneth Upton, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas.

“Furthermore, these cases should be consolidated because as it stands now Mayor Parker and the City of Houston could find themselves facing conflicting judgments when all they are trying to do is ensure all city employees are treated equally,” said Upton.

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