The Brief: Texas Political News for Nov. 21, 2013

Houston Mayor Annise Parker at the Texas Democratic Party's convention in Houston on June 8, 2012.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker at the Texas Democratic Party's convention in Houston on June 8, 2012.

The Big Conversation

Houston Mayor Annise Parker will move to extend health and life insurance benefits to same-sex legal spouses of city employees, despite a 2001 city charter amendment that was put to the voters specifically to prohibit the practice.

A legal fight is all but assured, with Parker's action possibly putting Texas' constitutional prohibition on gay marriage on a collision course with the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal over the summer of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Parker relied on an opinion from City Attorney David Feldman in deciding to move forward, reported the Houston Chronicle's Mike Morris and Jayme Fraser"We believe that the only constitutional, just, right and fair thing to do is to extend benefits to all of our married employees, whether they are heterosexual or same-sex couples," Parker said.

Parker's action, though, appears to be in conflict with a city charter amendment passed by voters in 2001, which denies city benefits "to persons other than employees, their legal spouses and dependent children." Parker said she believed that her action was not in conflict with the charter. "I can only assume that it was contemplated that there would never be a time when same-sex couples were in legally sanctioned relationships," she said.

Her critics, though, were not buying the argument, Morris and Fraser reported.

"My understanding of the Texas state law is that you cannot be legally married unless you're the opposite sex in the state of Texas, and that will be the overriding thing," said Doug Wilson, the leader of the effort to pass the charter amendment. "They're just trying to monkey with the words. I will absolutely take this all the way to the Supreme Court."

The Associated Press' Juan A. Lozano reported that Parker's action also puts her in conflict with Attorney General Greg Abbott, who issued an opinion in April saying policies by local jurisdictions that extend benefits to same-sex partners violate the state constitution. Abbott acted after some Texas cities, like Austin and El Paso, offered benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

The difference here is that Houston is offering benefits to legal spouses, now including same-sex spouses who presumably have been married outside of Texas. Lozano talked to University of Houston law professor Thomas Oldham, who said that "unlike domestic partner policies in other Texas cities, Houston's policy is more vulnerable to legal challenge because of the state's constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. What Houston has done 'would be more squarely in violation of the constitutional provision.'"

Culled

•   Education Chairmen Join Algebra II Fray at SBOE (The Texas Tribune): "Two top lawmakers made an unexpected Wednesday evening visit to urge the State Board of Education to preserve legislative intent as they implement new high school graduation requirements the Legislature passed in May. 'When in doubt about what the right course of action is, lean toward local control,' said House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, at the meeting, where he was joined by Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston."

•    Darby arrested after carrying gun into airport (San Angelo Standard-Times): "Austin police arrested State Rep. Drew Darby after he forgot to remove his gun from a carry-on bag before going through security for a morning flight at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport."

•    Celia Israel likely won’t face primary challenger (Austin American-Statesman): "Celia Israel’s trouncing of her fellow Democrats in a special election for a Texas House seat this month not only won her a spot in the runoff, but it appears to have given her a clear shot at the party’s nomination for the seat next year. The Democrats who lost in the Nov. 5 special election — Rico Reyes and Jade Chang Sheppard — said this week that they won’t run in the regular primary in March against Israel, who garnered more votes than both of them combined. Instead, Sheppard and Reyes are considering running for other offices."

•    Hundreds rally on UT campus for immigration reform (Austin American-Statesman): "Hundreds rallied on the University of Texas campus Wednesday afternoon for immigration reform and relaxed deportations of undocumented residents — and against a group of conservative students."

•    Perry: ‘Immigration reform is going to be very passé’ (CNN): "Calls to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws will fade away as soon as Mexico jump-starts its economy, Texas Gov. Rick Perry predicted Wednesday. Perry, speaking to reporters at the Republican Governors Association’s annual conference in Arizona, ridiculed Democratic efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill without first enhancing security along the Texas-Mexico border."

Quote to Note"It is clear that Mayor Parker has interpreted her re-election as a mandate to not only ignore the Texas State Constitution but now even the Houston City Charter, with the cover of the City Attorney issuing a flawed legal opinion." — Dave Welch of the Houston Area Pastor Council, accusing Houston Mayor Annise Parker of overstepping her authority by extending health and life insurance benefits to legally married same-sex spouses of city employees.

Must-Read

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