For Losing Gay Marriage Fight, Texas Owes Gay Couples' Attorneys $600,000

Fighting against gay marriage is expensive.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, because Texas lost that fight, it has been ordered to pay $600,000 in attorneys' fees to the lawyers for a lesbian couple who fought the state's ban on gay marriage three years ago.

The attorneys in DeLeon v. Abbott — which was Texas's equivalent of Obergefell v. Hodges before Obergell made it to the U.S. Supreme Court — have been fighting for their money for nearly two years. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has tried to thwart the payments by arguing the $600,000 was excessive and that the attorneys were including work they couldn't be compensated for, like talking to journalists.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Fifth Circuit of Appeals sided with the gay couples' attorneys, finding that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia had adequately assessed proper fees — in fact, Garcia had reduced total billable hours by 35 percent.

“Our task on behalf of our clients was to attack and uproot unjust laws that were tightly embraced by the entire elected state-wide leadership of Texas, a state with virtually unlimited resources to defend those unjust laws,” attorney Neal Lane had written in an earlier brief arguing for entitlement to the payments. “Had the State of Texas not deprived our clients of their constitutional rights, they in turn would not have had to engage attorneys, and this motion for attorneys' fees and costs would have been unnecessary.”

In 2014, Garcia ruled that Texas's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. His ruling was put on hold, however, while Texas continued to fight in appeals for its right to discriminate against gay people. Once the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right, however, Garcia's original ruling was upheld, prompting the couples' attorneys to ask Texas to pay up.

The state is surely not done fighting against gay marriage just yet, with the Texas Supreme Court set to hear arguments in a very complicated case about whether legally married gay couples should be entitled to the same city-employee marriage benefits as other legally married straight couples. Paxton, Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick pleaded with the high court to take up the case — which was filed by two conservative Houston taxpayers — after the justices declined to hear it. Apparently, the justices changed their minds.

"While the U.S. Supreme Court did recognize a right to same-sex marriage, there are a host of issues in that area of the law that remain unresolved," Paxton said in a statement last October. "I applaud Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick for their leadership in asking that state courts give serious consideration to these weighty, unresolved questions."
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn