A federal judge has temporarily blocked the Obama administration from implementing a new rule to ensure married same-sex couples have access to the Family & Medical Leave Act even if they live in non-marriage equality states.
In a 24-page decision, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, an appointee of George W. Bush, issued the preliminary injunction based on the threat of irreparable harm to Texas, which filed the lawsuit against the regulation.
“The Court concludes that all of the plaintiff states have met their burden of alleging that the Final Rule will require the states to violate their own laws,” O’Connor writes. “Moreover, as the final rule is scheduled to take effect on March 27, 2015, Plaintiffs allege a sufficiently immediate threat of harm.”
The judge cites the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Texas as a reason for why a preliminary injunction placing the rule on hold is appropriate as litigation continues.
Although numerous judges have interpreted the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act as a precedent for striking down bans on same-sex marriage, O’Connor writes the ruling and the Full Faith and Credit Statute of DOMA — which remains standing — prohibit the Obama administration from affording FMLA benefits in non-marriage equality states.
“The Full Faith and Credit Statute affirms Congress’ intention to reserve the power to define marriage and accompanying rights and benefits to the states, and Windsor cabins Congress’ authority to aggrandize that power,” O’Connor writes. “Congress could not have delegated to the Department the power to define marriage in a way as to override the laws of states prohibiting same-sex marriages.”
The new rule, made final by the Labor Department last month in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA, changes the regulatory framework under FMLA to ensure these benefits are available to married same-sex couples regardless of their state of residence. The change was set to take effect on Friday, the day after the preliminary injunction was handed down.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed litigation seeking to block the change, celebrated the court’s hold on the regulatory change in a statement.
“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,” Paxton said. “We are pleased that the Department of Labor’s effort to override our laws via federal rulemaking has been halted, and we will continue to defend our sovereignty in this case.”
After Texas initially filed the lawsuit, the state was joined by Arkansas, Louisiana and Nebraska in an amended complaint. Each are states where at least one court has struck down bans on same-sex marriage, although same-sex couples are unable to marry there because of stays on the rulings pending appeal.
Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the court order demonstrates the need for a ruling from the Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality nationwide.
“No legally married same-sex couple should be denied family leave simply because they happen to live in a state that fails to respect their marriage,” Warbelow said. “Because of Judge O’Connor’s decision, countless legally married same-sex couples in Texas are now unable to access to their federal FMLA benefits. With a pending Supreme Court decision on nationwide marriage equality this summer, we are confident that justice will ultimately prevail.”