The city of Houston will offer health and life insurance benefits to all spouses of legally married employees, including same-sex couples, despite a voter-approved 2001 charter amendment that had banned the practice, Mayor Annise Parker announced Wednesday.
Parker’s action relied on a legal opinion from City Attorney David Feldman that cited the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act this year, federal agencies’ subsequent decisions to recognize legal same-sex marriages and other relevant case law.
“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.”
The 2001 charter amendment states, in part, “Except as required by State or Federal law, the City of Houston shall not provide employment benefits, including health care, to persons other than employees, their legal spouses and dependent children.”
Parker said the language is plan in referring to legal marriages. Same-sex marriages conducted in any jurisdiction where the act is legal, including foreign countries, 17 states and the District of Columbia, will be recognized, she said.
“The amendment specifically permits benefits to be provided to legal spouses of employees,” Parker said. “I can only assume that it was contemplated that there would never be a time when same-sex couples were in legally sanctioned relationships.”
Texas’ own Defense of Marriage Act remains in force, Feldman and Parker said, but they said actions on the federal level supersede it and that the law is unconstitutional.
The unmarried partners of gay or straight employees – including the mayor’s partner, Kathy Hubbard, with whom she has lived for 24 years – will remain ineligible for benefits.