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Plaintiffs Again Ask Judge to Halt Same-Sex Benefits in Houston

Anti-LGBTQ activists seek summary judgment as Pidgeon v. Turner returns to Harris County district court.

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Anti-LGBTQ activists are again asking a Harris County judge to halt benefits for the same-sex spouses of Houston city employees, according to a recently filed motion.

The motion for summary judgment in Pidgeon v. Turner, a five-year-old lawsuit challenging the benefits, states that the city should not subsidize same-sex marriages because gay couples cannot produce offspring, “which are needed to ensure economic growth and the survival of the human race.”

The motion also asks Republican Judge Lisa Millard, of the 310th District Family Court, to order the city to “claw back” taxpayer funds spent on the benefits since November 2013, when former Mayor Annise Parker first extended health and life insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. And the court filing suggests that to comply with both state and federal law, the city should eliminate all spousal benefits, including for opposite-sex couples.

The motion for summary judgment was filed July 2 by Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, two Houston taxpayers who initially brought their lawsuit in December 2013. Woodfill, a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, is president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

In his motion for summary judgment, Woodfill asserts that although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, that decision does not require the city to treat same-sex couples equally.

“Obergefell does not require taxpayer subsidies for same-sex marriages — any more than Roe v. Wade requires taxpayers subsidies for abortions,” Woodfill’s motion states.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for the city, said it will respond to the motion “in a timely fashion.”

“The City hopes the Judge will be persuaded by the law,” Bernstein said in an email. “The Legal Department defers to the arguments it will make in response.”

In response to Pidgeon and Hicks’ lawsuit, Judge Millard has repeatedly attempted to halt same-sex benefits. However, a federal judge ordered the city to maintain the benefits, and a state appeals court overturned Millard’s decision in the wake of Obergefell.

The plaintiffs then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which initially declined to hear the case before reversing that decision due to political pressure from social conservatives. The all-Republican state Supreme Court proceeded to unanimously overturn the appeals court’s ruling, and send the case back to Millard’s court for trial. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. The city has continued to offer same-sex benefits while the lawsuit is pending.

In his motion, Woodfill argues that the city’s policy violates the Texas Family Code, which prohibits benefits “asserted as a result of a marriage between person of the same sex or a civil union in this state or in any other jurisdiction.”

Woodfill also argues that the city should “undo” past expenditures on same-sex benefits, saying they have harmed his clients.

“Pidgeon and Hicks have suffered a ‘particularized injury’ because they are devout Christians who have been compelled by the mayor’s unlawful edict to subsidize homosexual relationships that they regard as immoral and sinful, in violation of their sincere religions beliefs,” the motion states.

Finally, Woodfill asks Millard to declare that the the city has no right to violate state law based on officials’ personal beliefs. Parker extended same-sex benefits benefits 18 months prior to Obergefell.

“The court will be inviting anarchy if it allows Parker and the city to get away with their pre-Obergefell defiance of state law,” the motion states.

Millard, the presiding judge, is seeking re-election in November, when she’ll face Democrat Sonya Heath, who is endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

Read the full motion below.

Pidgeon v. Hicks, Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment by John Wright on Scribd

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John Wright

John Wright is the editor of OutSmart magazine. He has spent two decades in the mainstream and LGBTQ media. Most recently, he served as senior editor of Dallas Voice, and covered LGBTQ issues in the state Legislature for The Texas Observer. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wright earned his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida. He resides in the EaDo area of Houston, where he is currently remodeling a 1930s row house.
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