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Same-Sex Case Update: Federal Court Rules Against City of Houston Again, Taxpayers Prevail

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Editor’s Note: Our legal team of three lawyers has consistently defeated some of the most well-known attorneys and law firms in Texas on this issue, including former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.

In a major victory for Texas Values and Houston taxpayers, a federal judge has once again rejected the City of Houston’s efforts to transfer a lawsuit over the illegal benefits it provides to same-sex couples into federal court.

The judge found the city’s arguments for federal jurisdiction so baseless that it took the extraordinary step of ordering the city to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. Texas Values attorney Jonathan Saenz and Jared Woodfill are members of the legal team representing the Houston taxpayers in this case.

The case dates back to 2013, when former Mayor Annise Parker defied state law and ordered the City of Houston to recognize same-sex “marriages” from other states — even though Texas law prohibited same-sex marriage and the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right. Houston taxpayers Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks promptly sued Mayor Parker and the city of Houston in state court and asked the state judiciary to enjoin this unlawful policy.

This marks the second time that the City of Houston has unsuccessfully attempted to transfer this litigation into federal court. In 2013, the city’s lawyers tried to move this case to federal court, but were rebuffed in a thorough and comprehensive opinion from U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal. Last month, the city’s lawyers sought once again to transfer the case to federal court in defiance of the earlier ruling, but this time the federal district judge returned the case to state court and ordered the city to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. The federal court order may be found here.

“This is the fourth time that a court has ruled against the City of Houston in this case. It’s utterly irresponsible that the City of Houston continues to violate the law and spend thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars on a legal matter that they keep losing,” said Jonathan Saenz, one of the lawyers for the winning Houston taxpayers in the case.

“Once again, the City of Houston continues to delay having a court rule on Mayor Parker’s unlawful executive order regarding using taxpayer dollars to fund same-sex benefits. I am thankful that the federal court promptly disposed of the City of Houston’s meritless motion and sent the case back to state court,” said Jared Woodfill, trial counsel for the prevailing Houston taxpayers.

Taxpayers Pidgeon and Hicks initially were victorious in this case in 2014, and secured an injunction from a state trial court that forbade the city to provide spousal employment benefits to same-sex couples. But a state appellate court reversed that injunction after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right. Pidgeon and Hicks appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, and the state supreme court ruled last June, in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd, that Pidgeon and Hicks could proceed with their lawsuit against the city.

On Dec. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the City of Houston’s request to review the case.

Since this case began, more than 70 elected officials—including Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton—have weighed in and filed amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs, Pidgeon and Hicks.

BACKGROUND:

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects City of Houston’s Request To Review Same-sex Benefits Case (Dec. 4, 2017): https://txvalues.org/2017/12/04/victory-u-s-supreme-court-rejects-the-city-of-houstons-request-to-review-same-sex-benefits-case

Texas Supreme Court Rules Against City of Houston On Same-Sex Benefits Case (June 30, 2017): https://txvalues.org/2017/06/30/supreme-court-rules-against-city-of-houston-on-same-sex-case

Texas Values Applauds Texas Supreme Court in Taking Up Same-sex Benefits Case (Jan. 20, 2017): https://txvalues.org/2017/01/20/texas-values-applauds-texas-supreme-court-in-taking-up-same-sex-benefits-case

Elected Officials, Candidates, Leaders Call for Texas Supreme Court to Hear Houston Same-sex Benefits Case (Oct. 17, 2016): https://txvalues.org/2016/10/17/elected-officials-candidates-leaders-call-for-texas-supreme-court-to-hear-houston-same-sex-benefits-case

Texas Supreme Court Denies Appeal on Same-sex Benefits (Sept. 6, 2016): https://txvalues.org/2016/09/06/texas-supreme-court-denies-appeal-on-same-sex-benefits

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