Marriage Equality Rights on Trial

Texas' Supreme Court should issue a ruling by June

The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments last Wednesday on the legality of Houston's spousal benefits policy, which grants all married couples – gay and straight – insurance benefits. Texas' most powerful conservatives are hopeful the state's high court will rule in their favor and put limitations on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Marriage Equality ruling. The court conceded to hear the hour of arguments four months after originally denying petitioners Jack Pid­geon and Larry Hicks' request for review. Since Septem­ber, state justices have received an onslaught of requests – as well as an amicus brief filed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton – in support of the Pidgeon and Hicks case ("Supreme Court Reconsiders Same-Sex Benefits," Jan. 27). Jonathan Mitchell, counsel for the plaintiffs, argued insurance coverage is not a "fundamental right" and that states should be the ones to decide whether to offer benefits to same-sex couples. Hous­ton attorneys defended the city's right to provide benefits to all legally married employees and contended that the SCOTUS decision "left no remaining issues to be decided by any state supreme court or any other state official." The court is expected to rule by June.

The context of the case got clouded that same day, however, when Austin resident Mandy Dealey filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct against state Supreme Court Justice Don Willett alleging that Willett – a state justice who enjoys a rare amount of good-natured celebrity – "sacrific[ed] judicial integrity in the face of an email campaign by an anti-LGBT group" when he reversed his decision to review the case – a nod to a recent PR pitch from the Conservative Republicans of Texas. Dealey said that she cited Willett because the justice is "the recognized leader of the anti-LGBT faction of the Texas Supreme Court." By doing so, Dealey charged, Willett violated the state's code of judicial conduct by allowing himself to be swayed by "partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism." The code also prohibits sexual orientation biases, which Dealey says Willett violated. The complaint requests that Willett disclose all communications received in regard to Pidgeon v. Turner, as well as the measures taken by the court to prevent improper lobbying. Osler McCarthy, a PIO for the state Supreme Court, specified to the Chronicle on Wednesday that "the issue in Pidgeon was not marriage equality per se, but whether Houston could pay same-sex couples married legally out of state spousal benefits when Texas made even recognition of such marriages illegal" – a relevant distinction, he said, between what Dealey is alleging and what Willett was to rule on. McCarthy also noted how Supreme Court voting on petitions is not public, meaning one cannot know for sure if Willett did in fact reconsider his position.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Sarah Marloff
City Acknowledges Its Debt to Sexual Assault Survivors
City Acknowledges Its Debt to Sexual Assault Survivors
Seen and heard

Feb. 4, 2022

Travis County Settles With Sexual Assault Survivors
Travis County Settles With Sexual Assault Survivors
$580,000 settlement reached in three-year legal battle over handling of sexual assault cases

June 25, 2021


same sex marriage benefits, Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Jack Pidgeon, Larry Hicks, Ken Paxton, Don Willett, Mandy Dealey

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle