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Houston Mayor Parker's California wedding sparks controversy

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Houston Mayor Annise Parker and first lady Kathy Hubbard were married at a private ceremony at a home in Palm Springs, California Thursday Jan 16, ending weeks of speculation, but sparking new waves of controversy.

The Mayor had stated on several occasions that she and Kathy Hubbard began their relationship on 23 years ago on January 16, fueling questions of whether a wedding was planned. However, even as late as her weekly press conference on January 15 following the City Council meeting, the Mayor declined to state whether a marriage ceremony was imminent or where it might take place. However, she did state that she would be out of town for each of the following three weekends. Generally, when the Mayor travels on public business or participates in events that promote the City of Houston, she explains her plans in detail, which suggested that an important personal matter was planned.

According the Mayor's press release:

“Mayor Annise Parker and her long-time partner, First Lady Kathy Hubbard, were joined in marriage today in a sunset ceremony held at a private home in Palm Springs, California. A small gathering of family and friends, including the mayor’s mother and Ms. Hubbard’s sister, were on hand for the exchange of vows, which were presided over by the Reverend Paul Fromberg, a family friend from San Francisco. Two other close friends from Houston, Judge Steve Kirkland and Mr. Mark Parthie, served as the attendants and formal witnesses. Mayor Parker and the First Lady selected January 16th for their wedding because it marks the 23rd anniversary of the start of their lives together.

“This is a very happy day for us,” said Mayor Parker. “We have had to wait a very long time to formalize our commitment to each other. Kathy has been by my side for more than two decades, helping to raise a family, nurture my political career and all of the other ups and down and life events that come with a committed relationship. She is the love of my life and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life married to her.”

Ms. Hubbard has other insurance options available to her and will, therefore, not participate in the new policy granting city health insurance benefits to the spouses of legally-married city employees.”

The press release refers to a change in Houston's employee benefits program extending benefits to all “legally married” couples, including same sex couples married under the laws of other states. The mayor implemented the change by executive order, implementing the US Supreme Court decision in

Two lawsuits have been filed since the policy change, both widely publicized by Harris County Republican Party chairman Jarod Woodfill. The first, Pidgeon v. Parker, (Case 2013-753C1) was filed in the 310th District Court for Harris County, which generally hears divorce matters. The petition was heard in a late afternoon ex parte hearing before Republican judge Lisa Millard on a temporary restraining order. The second, Freeman v. Parker, Case 4:13-cv-3755 was filed in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas on December 26, 2013. The plaintiffs sought a court order to reverse the Harris County court decision and resume the policies implemented by the mayor. The Harris county case was removed to Federal court, so the matters can be consolidated into a single action.

Woodfill asserts in e-mails to republican activists that the policy change was “illegal” because the Mayor did not consult City Counsel. He also alleged that the Mayor is “spending city funds illegally” and refers to the marriage with quotations, suggesting that he considers the ceremony “illegal.”

Houston City Attorney Dave Feldman stated that the litigation is expected to be a long process, and no decisions had been made as of January 8, 2013.

Reporters at the Jan 15 press conference also raised questions about the reason for Feldman's substantial pay increase. The Mayor explained that Feldman's original contract was for 4 years, and he was ready to return to the private sector. Feldman accepted a substantial salary cut to accept the City Attorney position. The Mayor deemed it preferable to increase the City Attorney's salary in consideration for staying on to complete the legislative work he had begun.

The move avoids having to change attorneys at a moment when the city is defending high-profile lawsuits. The City Attorney performed the legal research on the implications of the Supreme Court decision in US v. Windsor, (133 S. Ct. 2675 - Supreme Court 2013). His memorandum is Exhibit A among the the supporting arguments for he mayor's policies now before the court in Freeman v. Parker.

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