The Austin Chronicle

Marriage Equality Suffers Blow

Texas Supreme Court rules against spousal benefits for same-sex marriages

By Sarah Marloff, July 7, 2017, News

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday, June 30, that same-sex marriages are not entitled to spousal benefits. The decision, issued on the final day of Pride Month, sends the case back to the Harris County trial court for reconsideration. In January, the all-Republican SCOTX agreed to hear oral arguments from petitioners Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, who filed a lawsuit against the city of Houston's benefits policy, arguing that while the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges ruling guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry, that right does not include spousal benefits like tax, health care, or life insurance – an argument to which Texas justices unanimously agreed.

In 2013, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker extended city benefits to employees in same-sex domestic partnerships. That move was taken to court and blocked with a temporary injunction. Before a ruling could be reached, SCOTUS issued Obergefell, which ultimately persuaded the court of appeals to reverse the injunction. Pidgeon and Hicks's petition to open the case was originally rejected by the state's high court last September, but after receiving multiple amicus briefs from state political leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attor­ney General Ken Pax­ton, they reconsidered shortly after Donald Trump's inauguration.

In a statement issued Friday, Equality Texas said the ruling "clings to unconstitutional notions of 'separate but equal,'" and that sending the case back to the lower court "undermines the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell marriage equality decision [which] made clear that marriage equality is settled law and requires states to treat married same-sex couples equally in every area of the law."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner defended marriage equality rights to the Dallas Morning News, but it remains unclear if the city will take the case to the Supreme Court or go back to trial in Harris County.

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