Same-sex couples who have legally wed in a state that recognizes such marriages and work for the city of Houston will be eligible for the same health care and life insurance benefits as straight couples, Mayor Annise Parker announced on Wednesday. Parker said she based her decision on a city legal department interpretation of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
In 2001, Houston voters approved an amendment to the city charter that prohibits the granting of same-sex benefits to city employees. However, Parker noted that the amendment allows benefits to be provided to "legal spouses" of employees and the city legal department believes that such legally married same sex couples meet the definition.
“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 in a statement. “This change is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right, just and fair thing to do.”
The city of Houston follows the lead of such federal agencies as the Internal Revenue Service, which announced in August that all legally married same-sex couples will be recognized as married for federal tax purposes, even if those couples reside in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage. However, the Social Security Administration has not issued a clear cut policy and the situation remains muddled.
The new city policy does not extend to domestic partners, so Parker and her partner of 24 years, Kathy Hubbard are not eligible because the couple has not legally married in a state that recognizes gay marriage.