Federal Judge Orders Houston to Pay Pastor’s Attorneys’ Fees in Homosexual ‘Spousal’ Benefits Challenge

Photo: Public Domain Pictures/George Hodan

HOUSTON, Texas — A U.S. district judge appointed to the bench by then-President Ronald Reagan has rejected another effort from the City of Houston to have a case regarding “spousal” benefits of homosexual government workers decided in federal court rather than by state judges, and has ordered the City to pay the attorneys’ fees of the pastor and accountant who filed suit.

“This is the fourth time that a court has ruled against the City of Houston in this case,” Jonathan Saenz, an attorney with Texas Values, said in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”

“Having considered the plaintiffs’ motion to remand, the court finds that: (1) The court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this lawsuit; (2) The defendant’s notice of removal is time-barred; (3) The defendants’ arguments for removal are foreclosed by the doctrines of issue and claim preclusion; and (4) No federal law or constitutional claim is presented by the plaintiff’s pleadings…,” wrote U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt.

Read the ruling in full here.

As previously reported, in 2013, Houston Mayor Annise Parker issued an order that required the city to provide benefits to homosexual city workers “legally married” out-of-state as same-sex nuptials were illegal in Texas at the time.

The following month, a pastor and an accountant filed suit against the city, stating that Parker’s order violated the Houston city charter, the Texas Defense of Marriage Act and the state Constitution.

State Judge Lisa Millard granted an injunction against Parker, but the city moved the legal challenge to federal court, resulting in the injunction becoming moot. However, the federal court moved the suit back to the state on jurisdictional grounds.

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Following the 2015 Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, an appeals court lifted the injunction and plaintiffs Jack Pidgeon of West Houston Christian Center and accountant Larry Hicks took the matter to the state Supreme Court. The court declined to hear the appeal in September 2016, but supporters—with the agreement of Gov. Greg Abbott—urged the justices to reconsider.

In January 2017, the court agreed to rehear the case, and released its written opinion in June, allowing Pidgeon and Hicks’ lawsuit to proceed.

“We agree with the mayor [of Houston] that any effort to resolve whether and the extent to which the Constitution requires states or cities to provide tax-funded benefits to same-sex couples without considering Obergefell would simply be erroneous,” Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote on behalf of the panel. “On the other hand, we agree … that the Supreme Court did not address and resolve that specific issue in Obergefell.”

“The Supreme Court held in Obergefell that the Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages to the same extent that they license and recognize opposite-sex marriages, but it did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons,” he said. “Of course, that does not mean … that the city may constitutionally deny benefits to its employees’ same-sex spouses. Those are the issues that this case now presents.”

The court unanimously sent the matter back to the trial court for further consideration.

Following the ruling, Houston appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court denied the petition in December. Houston officials again sought for the case to be transferred to federal court, but on Tuesday, Judge Hoyt refused the request, returning the legal battle back to the 310th District Court of Harris County.

“The court also finds that the defendants had no objectively reasonable basis for removal, and the plaintiffs are entitled to recover an attorney’s fee,” he wrote.

Alan Bernstein, the spokesman for new Mayor Sylvester Turner, said that the City will continue to pursue the matter.

“We are surprised by the district court’s ruling,” he told the Dallas News. “Wherever the case is litigated, the city will protect the rights of city employees under United States Supreme Court case law.”

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  • Seymore Philmore

    This nation has been the Federalist States of America since 1868. States no longer have the control over their governance due to the 14th Amendment.

  • JoeMyGod

    The wife of above quoted Christian activist Jonathan Saenz left him for another woman.

    THAT is what this is really all about.


    • Amos Moses – He>i

      garbage ………..

  • MCrow

    This…isn’t even a case. The matter is so clearly prejudicial so as to be silly. Plus it’s burning taxpayer money.

    • Amos Moses – He>i

      blame the former mayor …………

  • Seems to me that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment would apply here, equally protecting all married couples against religious bigotry. I understand that Christians don’t like the idea of equal rights (which is always the States’ Rights argument and used to “justify” discrimination), but that, too, is born of religious teachings which are not supposed to sway the Constitution in favor of religious belief.

    In pursuit of equality and reason, I tend to think that the preacher should pay his own lawyer fees and same gender couples should receive the same spousal benefits as any other married couple.

    • John O

      Leviticus 24:22 (ESV)

      You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.”

      one law for everyone is Gods law. special interest groups threw God out so they could have special rights.

      • Sorry, my friend, but I know that it is the nature of fundamentalist belief that all other beliefs are false and that everyone must believe as any fundamentalist believer making that claim (whether Christian, Muslim, or Hebrew or any other brand of theistic fundamentalism). They all say that.

        For the greatest majority of every religion, it was what they were taught to believe from childhood and they believe theirs just as much as you believe yours.

        Just be happy that everyone who believes differently are going to hell and only you and those of your belief will be sitting in Heaven eating popcorn and enjoying watching all those “fools” who didn’t think as you (No matter how good they were in life) writhe in eternal torture, compliments of your “loving” god.

        But that was my point, wasn’t it? Fundamentalist Christians do not believe in equal rights and are happy doing their best to deny others the right to seek happiness through the institution of marriage.

        The Constitution is a secular document and what you believe to be the religious TRUTH has nothing whatsoever to do with who gets what rights under the Constitution.

        • John O

          congratulations, u are a great advocate for anarchy. everyone has his own law and the government pays for it. bring in global 2000 depopulation which is the goal. please put me at the top of the list, as this planet is going to stink big time. enjoy

          • Huh? Where are you getting that? What the heck are you talking about? You actually equate equal rights with anarchy? You really need to unpack that for me. I’ve no Idea what you’re saying.

            Please explain to me how equal rights under the Constitution equals anarchy.

          • John O

            read your own posts. anybody who believes is unconstitutional and the law enforces that. i have read the humanist manifesto and no mention of God. so who runs the new world order? no choice, history repeating. dictator, president, pope, whoever has power to enforce, contrary to belief. 1984. we are not going to agree on anything. choice.

          • Wow, you seriously need to rethink that. I never even hinted of such a thing. All the Establishment Clause says is that the government must treat all religions and philosophical orders the same, favoring none. That, alone, makes all religions equal IN THE EYES OF THE GOVERNMENT (under the Constitution and in sync with the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment).

            That is why no government entity/agency may favor one religion over another. All religions are allowed to live and worship in peace (whether or not you agree with them).

            It means that you are FREE to worship your god and pray anytime you wish. It says, too, that all other religions have the SAME rights. That isn’t making your own rules (unless you are establishing your own religion). There is a major difference between the rules of a religion and the laws codified in the Constitution and one has nothing to do with the other.

            I hope I’m made that clear.

          • John O

            the only thing u have made clear is equal rights is limited to sex and religion in your mind. when immigrants want half your stuff because its equal rights without them paying taxes, is that equal. when indians didn’t get the full vote, was that equal? that is the argument isis uses in its recruitment. read Patrick Henry, please.

          • Well, I have to forgive you. It’s clear that you never took a course in informal logic (critical thinking). That isn’t condescension, it’s only evident because you keep equivocating, changing the subject of the conversation but never confronting the original subject.

            I want equal rights for all citizens–hmm, how can I say this such that you will understand?–UNDER THE CONSTITUTION–no, I said that and you still didn’t understand.

            Okay, let’s approach this from the root.

            The U.S. has a Constitution containing a Bill of Rights. The Constitution is the law of the land (all of the U.S.). Americans (citizens) are granted many rights under the Constitution. Every single person in the U.S. has every right enumerated in the Bill of Rights, which is the law of the land.

            Now, my argument concerning spousal benefits for a married homosexual couple is simple and I make no reference to any other subject or condition. If the marriage of a same-gender couple is recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States as a legal marriage, then the couple should receive all the benefits of any other marriage working for the same company/government.

            A preacher, adhering to a particular religious belief, whats to bring harm (stress) to some married city workers by denying them the full spousal benefits that any other married couple have. Their benefits are NONE of the preacher’s business and to deny them that equality is an assault on the couple’s happiness.

            The preacher, in my opinion, is loathsome and mean spirited, desiring to hurt other people because of his religious belief. No court should honor his bigoted malevolence.

          • John O

            2 of my best friends were atheists. neither tried to recruit anybody to their way of thinking. another story on this site has a minister trying to rewrite the bible. same as u. we are done.

          • Not all atheists are motivated to attempt to point out how Christian misunderstanding and biblical literality can actually hurt people. Not all atheists fully understand the Establishment Clause. Thomas Jefferson, as you probably know, edited the Bible to remove all references to Jesus’ miracles and divinity. That’s fair. I have no problem with that.

            Jefferson was a Deist. I’m fine with that too. It is what allowed him to realize that all citizens should have equal rights, contrary to what Christians believed (and fundamentalists still do).

            As for the slaves he didn’t set free, I suspect his financial situation had a lot to do with it–he was not wealthy by a long shot. I have to wonder what anxiety he felt knowing the right thing to do, but to do it likely would send himself into poverty.

          • NCOriolesFan

            One person has the authority to demand an entire school, entire town get on their knees to kiss his or her butt because of a single complaint over something, in most cases, religious. He or she is offended by a scripture quote, a religious picture, a Christmas star on the local tree, bible study class, prayer at sports events or graduations. An entire school or town can no govern for everyone because the court recognizes the rights of one person. This is judicial anarchy to favor one person over a group.

          • Have a problem with equal rights, do you? That is, so long as it isn’t you being denied a right everyone else has? I would guess that all the thinks you mentioned, you were not talking about religion, you were talking about your brand of Christianity.

            You definitely didn’t have Islam in mind, right? If a town or school allows such things as you mentioned for your religion, you would urge the town not allow Muslims to do the same things.

            You should understand that the Bill of Rights says nothing about Christianity. The Constitution is a SECULAR document. If you want to live in a strict theocracy you can always immigrate to Saudi Arabia or another such country. They would let you do all those things, so long as it followed the proscribed method of worship and prayer.

            Is that what you want for this nation?–to force everyone to bow to your beliefs and disallow any other religion access to the public ear?