The U.S. was barred by a federal judge from immediately enforcing a new rule that would grant Family and Medical Leave Act benefits to same-sex couples.
Texas sued the U.S. last week, claiming that the government’s definition of spouses would force the state to recognize same-sex couples married in other states. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Wichita Falls issued an order Thursday putting the new rule on hold.
The public has “an abiding interest” in protecting state laws from “federal encroachment,” O’Connor said in issuing the order. He barred the Labor Department from applying the rule, pending a final determination on the merits of the Texas claim, he said.
The suit is one of several court battles over same-sex marriage in Texas. The state appealed an Austin judge’s 2014 ruling that overturned its gay-marriage ban. The Texas Supreme Court last month temporarily blocked a decision by a different Austin judge finding such marriages legal.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans is weighing gay- marriage bans in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The U.S. Supreme Court in January agreed to review a different appellate court’s decision barring same-sex marriage in four other states.
Texas claimed that the new U.S. rule requires employers in the state to consider leave requests without “final guidance” of the two courts. This places “an enormous burden” on employers, the state argued.
There was no burden on employers and the rule “does not unlawfully commandeer state authority,” lawyers for the U.S. countered in court papers Monday.
The rule “provides that an employee validly married in one state is treated as having a ‘spouse’ for the limited federal purpose of FMLA leave even if his or her marriage is not recognized under the law of the state where he or she resides or works,” the U.S. said in its response to the Texas lawsuit. “The rule does not purport to dictate what marriages are to be recognized under any state’s law, including the law of Texas.”
O’Connor disagreed. The Department of Labor rule would “impact, without legislative or judicial approval, the ability of state agencies to abide by the states’ definition of marriage, related laws, and constitutional provisions,” he said. O’Connor said he would set a hearing for April 13, if either side requests it.
“We are reviewing the opinion,” Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
“The Obama Administration’s attempt to force employers to recognize same-sex marriages would have put state agencies in the position of either violating Texas law or federal regulations,” Texas attorney general Ken Paxton said in a statement Thursday.
The rule was scheduled to take effect March 27.
Texas has been joined in the lawsuit by Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska, he said.
The case is Texas v. U.S., 15-cv-00056, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Wichita Falls).
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