Texas Public School Teachers Get Same-Sex Spouse Benefits

Omar Lopez
AP Photo: Eric Gay

Eligible Texas public school teachers can now apply for same-sex spouse benefits.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) is the latest state agency to change its policy to accommodate the US Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage the law of the land.

TRS announced the policy change on its website, extending “spousal benefits provided under their pension plan, TRS-Care, and TRS-ActiveCare to same-sex spouses.” This went into effect on July 1.

TRS-ActiveCare, the health benefits program for employees of more than 1,096 school districts, covers over 375,000 Texas public school employees and their dependents. TRS-Care is a healthcare benefits program for more than 233,000 teachers and other public education retirees and their dependents.

TRS is the largest public retirement system in the state both in membership and asset size. They serve 1,051,425 public school and higher education members plus 363,182 retirement recipients. As of August 2014, the system’s net assets totaled $132.8 billion.

Formed in 1937, TRS services employees of public schools, colleges, and universities supported by the state, per Article 16, Section 67 of the Texas Constitution.

The University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems as well as the Employees Retirement System (ERS) of Texas announced similar gay marriage spousal benefit changes on Monday.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the policy change coincides with open enrollment for next year’s benefits; however, the US Supreme Court decision triggered a “qualifying life event,” which means that some employees’ same-sex spouses may enroll for benefits now.

Previously, ERS spokeswoman Catherine Terrell told the Texas Tribune that “the major benefit issue” could be with employees’ health insurance plans. She noted that the high court’s ruling will have little impact on state employees’ retirement benefits because they can already assign anyone as a beneficiary.

ERS oversees retirement and health benefits for state employees and many other public universities and community colleges. They recognized an eligible spouse as “opposite-sex,” the traditional man and woman, but that all changed this week when ERS acted in response to the decision.

Previously, Texas law did not allow for a same-sex spouse to be included as an eligible dependent on a health insurance plan subsidized by the state. Texas pays 50 percent of its state employees’ health insurance premiums.

According to ABC-13, existing married same-sex couples can apply for spousal benefits. If not married, a couple can apply “for partner and child benefits to begin on the first day of the month” after a marriage becomes official.

The high court’s ruling conflicts with many Texans’ beliefs about traditional marriage and their religious freedoms and liberties. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive to all state agencies ordering agency heads to respect and preserve those religious liberties and the First Amendment rights of all Texans, as Breitbart Texas reported.

On June 11, Abbott signed the Pastor Protection Act, exempting clergy from performing marriage ceremonies that violate their beliefs, including same-sex marriage.

Breitbart Texas reported on Abbott’s response to the US Supreme Court’s decision that declared same-sex marriage a fundamental right. In part he wrote: “The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion; and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, combined with the newly enacted Pastor Protection Act, provide robust legal protections to Texans whose faith commands them to adhere to the traditional understanding of marriage.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.