HOUSTON—Houston Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday announced that same-sex spouses of legally married city employees will be offered benefits.
Parker’s office said employee benefits will be available to same-sex couples who have been married in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.
According to the mayor’s office, Parker’s decision was based on a city legal department interpretation of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Court decisions on similar cases from around the country were considered as well.
Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, a 2001 voter-approved City Charter amendment was the basis for prohibiting same-sex benefits. The amendment, however, specifically permits benefits to be provided to “legal spouses” of employees, and the city’s legal department determined it would be unlawful to continue to deny spousal benefits for legally married same-sex couples.
“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,” said Mayor Parker. “This change is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right, just and fair thing to do.”
As a result of Houston’s policy change, same-sex spouses of city employees will now be eligible for health care and life insurance benefits. The mayor’s office said it was unclear how many employees would take advantage of the change.
The mayor’s office also clarified that the new policy will not extend to domestic partners—only to legally married couples.
Shortly after Parker announced the new policy, public works employee Noel Freeman went to the city’s human resources department with his marriage certificate. Three years ago he legally wed his partner in Washington, DC and now he’s the first city employee to sign up for the same-sex marriage benefits.
“This is very important to me personally—you think about what we have, we are married just like a lot of other folks,” Freeman said. “It feels wonderful to go through this process and actually put him on my benefits.”
In August, the Internal Revenue Service announced all legally married same-sex couples would be recognized as married for federal tax purposes, even if those couples reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
But not everyone supports the new policy. Conservative activist Dave Wilson was behind the 2001 charter amendment to ban the city from offering domestic partner benefits and he’s already planning another legal challenge.
“They are not married in the eyes of God, and in the state of Texas law, there are some states that agree with that view, I don’t, homosexual behavior is immoral and unnatural,” Wilson said.