County to modify handbooks to comply with same-sex ruling

Published on Tuesday, 14 July 2015 12:55 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL,

The Smith County Commissioners approved modifications to employee handbooks to comply with the Supreme Court ruling regarding same-sex marriage.

The 4-1 vote to replace references to “husband” and “wife” and other gender specific terms with spouse in the county’s Wellness Program and Health Plan material and its Employee Handbook came after commissioners made points about their stance against the court’s ruling.

County Commissioner Terry Phillips questioned the ruling’s validity as it applies to Texas law and the state constitution, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. He was the lone “no” vote.

Phillips said the court created no law and disagreed with its authority to supersede state law.

County Attorney Phillip Smith explained that the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say on how laws are applied and that the ruling rendered any state law counter to the decision ineffective.

When asked by Commissioner Jeff Warr if non-compliance would expose the county to possible lawsuits, Smith said, “Yes it would.”

“I can’t support it, but y’all go ahead,” Phillips said before the vote.

Warr and Commissioner Cary Nix said they view marriage as between a man and a woman, but that they would approve the changes to avoid possible litigation. Commissioner JoAnn Hampton asked if the handbooks should include references to transgender individuals but commissioners and County Administrator Leonardo Brown agreed gender-neutral terms, such as “spouse” would encompass all scenarios under the law.