A unanimous decision in the Texas Supreme Court on Friday decided that while same-sex marriage is legal, same-sex couples aren’t guaranteed the same rights and benefits as heterosexuals.
Dallas News reported that the nine-member court reversed a ruling that extended health and life benefits to spouses of city employees in Houston. The court ordered that the case be sent back to trial.
“The Texas Supreme Court’s decision this morning is a warning shot to all LGBTQ Americans that the war on marriage equality is ever-evolving,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president of national LGBT rights group GLAAD, said. “Anti-LGBTQ activists will do anything possible to discriminate against our families.”
After Obergefell v Hodges was decided, the state of Texas and many government-funded institutions began extending spousal benefits to their LGBT employees. The then-mayor of Houston and first openly gay individual in the position, Annise Parker, extended similar benefits to city employees even though an amendment to the city charter banned the practice.
Pastor Jack Pidgeon and accountant Larry Hicks sued the mayor in response, saying that no city employee has a “fundamental right” to government-subsidized spousal benefits. Pidgeon and Hicks said that extending benefits to some married couples while denying them to others was “perfectly constitutional.”
“Today’s unanimous ruling from the state supreme court is a huge win for Houston taxpayers and for those who support the state’s marriage laws,” Jonathan Saenz, President conservative blog Texas Values and attorney for Pidgeon and Hicks wrote. “The Texas Supreme Court rejected the City of Houston’s request to hold that the Obergefell same-sex marriage decision requires the payment of spousal benefits to homosexual spouses of city employees, and rightly so.”
“It’s clear that the payment of same sex benefits by the City of Houston is still illegal under state law,” Saenz continued. “We look forward to continuing our litigation in the trial court, where we are confident that we will secure judicial relief against the city of Houston’s unlawful actions.”
The Texas Supreme Court had refused to take up the case until receiving pressure from top elected Republicans in the state including Attorney General Ken Paxton, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, according to Dallas News.
This decision will not affect anyone as of yet — more trials are needed to determine which spousal benefits should be provided in city and state positions. However, this decision does open the possibility that same-sex couples will not receive equal spousal benefits to heterosexual couples.
Current Mayor Sylvester Turner responded to the decision to ensure that Houston will uphold inclusivity for all of its residents.
“The City of Houston will continue to be an inclusive city that respects the legal marriages of all employees,” Turner said, “Marriage equality is the law of the land, and everyone is entitled to the full benefits of marriage, regardless of the gender of their spouse.”