The Supreme Court of Texas held that the U.S. Supreme Court opinion recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry does not automatically entitle them to spousal employment benefits. The unanimous court held that the 2015 opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges did not address the right to tax, insurance, or other benefits–only the right to marry.
These marriage benefits are not “fundamental rights,” and the U.S. Supreme Court did not rule on the issue of whether states and cities must provide the same taxpayer-funded benefits to all persons that are married, the Supreme Court of Texas held on Friday.
Lawyers for the plaintiff taxpayers, Larry Hicks and Jack Pidgeon, have described the case as “the only one of its kind in the nation.”
Those defending the actions by the City of Houston’s first openly gay mayor, Mayor Annise Parker, urged that the U.S. Supreme Court decision answered every question before the Supreme Court of Texas.
Breitbart Texas reported in early March that the Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the taxpayer suit against the City of Houston. The taxpayers argued that subsidizing employment benefits for the spouse of a same-sex couple is illegal. Jonathan Mitchell, a former law clerk for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, argued the case for the plaintiffs. Mitchell has also served as solicitor general for the State of Texas.
Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court of Texas and stated that while the Obergefell decision must be considered, the Court is constrained because the U.S. Supreme Court did not decide the particular question of benefits. The Texas Supreme Court sent the case back down to the trial court to now determine the issue.
When the case was originally filed, the district court granted a temporary injunction blocking the City from distributing the spousal benefits. The intermediate appellate court reversed the trial court’s injunction. Obergefell was issued before the hearing at the appellate court and was cited by the Court when it reversed the injunction.
The Supreme Court of Texas initially declined to extend its discretionary jurisdiction to hear the case, but reversed itself in late January after the taxpayers filed a motion and asked the Court to reconsider, reported Breitbart Texas. The plaintiff taxpayers urged that Mayor Parker violated the Texas Constitution and state statutes when she gave spousal benefits to gay employees in 2013 and 2014. Parker issued these benefits to employees before the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling.
Justice John Devine dissented from the Texas Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case, writing: “Marriage is a fundamental right. Spousal benefits are not.” Devine added, “Thus, the two issues are distinct, with sharply contrasting standards for review.” “(C)laims by same-sex spouses of City employees to employment benefits do not enjoy the benefit of strict scrutiny,” he wrote.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and a very large contingent of Texas state senators and representatives and other Texas conservatives, filed friend of the court briefs supporting the petitioner plaintiffs.
On Friday after the Supreme Court of Texas issued its decision, Equality Texas immediately issued a statement saying, “The Texas Supreme Court’s opinion today in the Pidgeon case clings to unconstitutional notions of ‘separate but equal’ that were long ago laid to rest in this nation.” The organization called on the City of Houston to “appeal this horrendous decision to the United States Supreme Court in order to ensure equality for the marriages of all Texans.”
Equality Texas calls itself “the largest statewide organization dedicated solely to securing full equality for LGBTQ Texans through political action, education, community organizing, and collaboration.”