Federal Court in Texas Bans FMLA Leave of Same Sex Spouses

On March 26, a federal judge in Texas granted an injunction preventing the Department of Labor’s final rule that extended FMLA benefits to same-sex couples married in a place where their union is legally recognized. The injunction was granted one day before the rule scheduled to go into effect.

Earlier in the month attorneys general from Texas and three other states – Arkansas, Louisiana, and Nebraska – filed a suit with the Texas-based federal court aiming to strike down the DOL’s final rule.

Texas AG Ken Patton said in a statement that the Obama Administration was forcing employers to choose between “either violating Texas law or federal regulations.”

However, the suit brought by the AGs was based on the rule’s supposed violation of a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that survived the recent United States v. Windsor Supreme Court decision. The attorneys general argued that the new DOL rule violates DOMA by mandating states to recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other states. The March 26 ruling is only a temporary injunction, and the federal judge has agreed to hold an April 13th hearing, if “requested.”

The ruling does raise the prospect of the rule’s legitimacy in other states not included in the lawsuit, and some observers are expecting the DOL to hold off until the Texas judge holds a hearing.

States Urging Supreme Court to Uphold Bans

All of these legal maneuvers could be moot though, as the Supreme Court is set to make decisions on four cases related to same-sex marriage in this term. On April 2, fifteen states filed a brief with the Supreme Court urging the justices to maintain gay marriage bans. The filing included eight states where same-sex marriage is currently legal, and the filing argued that the matter should be left up to the states.

The brief said proponents of same-sex marriage "urge the court to declare that the Constitution compels all 50 states to adopt this new form of marriage that did not exist in a single state 12 years ago.”

“The court should decline that invitation," the brief argued.

Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states, whether by court ruling, legislation or voter approval. In the eight states that filed the brief where gay marriage is legal – Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Utah and West Virginia – the legalization was done via court ruling.

Supreme Court Case: DeBoer v. Snyder

The first gay marriage case the Supreme Court is expected to hear is DeBoer v. Snyder on April 28. The case involves determining if states should be compelled to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and if states can opt to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The case itself involves April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, two nurses from Michigan. The nurses filed suit in January 2012 after being denied the adoption of a child due to their state’s ban on adoption by same-sex couples.

In August 2012, a federal judge suggested that the couple amend their suit to challenge the state’s gay marriage ban, since this law was at the heart of the issue. They did so and added the Oakland County Clerk to the suit’s original defendants, the Michigan governor and attorney-general of Michigan.

In March 2014, a federal judge ruled that the Michigan Marriage Amendment violated equal protection under the Constitution. The decision was then appealed in the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit later that month. In November, the appellate court ruled that Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban did not violate the Constitution.

Same-sex advocates then push for the decision to be taken up by the Supreme Court on the basis that Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban violates the 14th Amendment. On January 16, 2015, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

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