HOUSTON (AP) — Three city employees and their spouses who are
concerned that Houston could be forced to stop paying benefits to
same-sex spouses due to an ongoing civil case on Thursday sued
the city, asking for a court order to stop any such action.

The employees’ lawsuit, filed in federal court, comes after the
all-Republican state Supreme Court in June overturned a lower
court’s decision favoring same-sex marriage benefits and ordered
the case back to a civil court in Harris County, where Houston is
located.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, the conservative activists
who had initially sued Houston filed a motion seeking an
injunction that would block the city from paying same-sex spousal
benefits to its municipal employees while the case goes to trial.
The activists also asked that any such benefits that have already
been given be paid back by employees.

Kenneth Upton, an attorney for the three city employees and their
spouses, said his clients and others who have received benefits
for their same-sex spouses would be greatly harmed if they lost
access to health insurance, disability and other benefits and
also if they were forced to pay back such benefits.

One of the employees suing is a Houston police officer who is
worried that if she is hurt or killed in the line of duty, her
wife would not be entitled to the same benefits that the spouses
of other police officers would have access to, said Upton, a
Dallas-based attorney for Lambda Legal.

“It really is a terrible threat to people who are just trying to
serve the city and do their job,” he said.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner,
said in a statement the city, as does the state of Texas, offers
employees coverage for all legally married spouses without regard
to sex.

“As Mayor Sylvester Turner said in June, ‘The city of Houston
will continue to be an inclusive city that respects the legal
marriages of all employees. Marriage equality is the law of the
land, and everyone is entitled to the full benefits of marriage,
regardless of the gender of their spouse,'” Bernstein said.

But the mayor might not have a choice if ordered by a judge to
stop paying them, Upton said.

“The city is caught in the middle,” he said.

Upton said he expects the Harris County civil court judge will
grant the motion for an injunction blocking the payment of
benefits because the judge has granted similar requests twice
before.

Also named in Thursday’s lawsuit are the two Houston residents
who initially filed the lawsuit in 2013 asking that the city stop
paying such benefits and who were backed by a coalition of
religious and socially conservative groups. Jared Woodfill, their
attorney, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Social conservatives hope the case will help them chip away at
the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark ruling legalizing gay
marriage.

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision in June didn’t block same-sex
spousal benefits but said the U.S. Supreme Court decision did not
decide the issue.

The groups suing also called the case a chance for Texas to
defend religious liberty. Texas voters approved a gay marriage
ban in 2005.

Upton said he is confident a federal judge will side with his
clients because he believes the U.S. Supreme Court has already
spoken on the rights that same sex couples are entitled to when
they’re legally married.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70