Texas Supreme Court Undermines Marriage Equality

On Friday the Texas Supreme Court discarded a lower court’s ruling that spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized marriage benefits. The court argued that, although Obergefell v. Hodges requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages, it does not mandate that states “provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.”


In June 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges declared that same-sex couples fundamentally have equal protections under the Constitution. The Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all 50 states to both license a marriage and recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex.


The case ruled on this Friday by the Texas Supreme Court originates before the Obergefell vs. Hodges decision. In November 2013, Annise Parker, the mayor of Houston at the time, declared that Houston would begin offering health and life insurance benefits to the spouses of all legally married city employees, whether they were gay or straight. Two men, Larry Hicks and Jack Pidgeon, represented by the Harris County Republican Party chairman then sued the city of Houston. Hicks and Pidgeon’s case was based on the argument that the offered benefits are an illegal and wasteful use of taxpayers money.


After Obergefell vs. Hodges, a lower Texas court threw out Hicks and Pidgeon’s lawsuit in 2015. Hicks and Pidgeon then appealed to the high court. In September 2016, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case based on the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. However, Justice John Devine of the Texas Supreme Court stated his belief that the state should only offer spousal benefits to those in heterosexual marriages because the state should “encourage procreation within marriage” and benefits contribute to that encouragement.


Nevertheless, Texas leadership decided to ensure Hicks and Pidgeon’s case was heard in the court. In October 2016, Governor Greg Abbot, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the justices to reconsider their decision. In addition, the justices received letters opposing their initial ruling; as a result, the Texas Supreme Court decided in January 2017 to hear the case.


The court’s decision this Friday was then the result of years of legal action and conservative political movements. Hicks and Pidgeon’s lawsuit will continue to be deliberated on in Texas’s lower courts. Social conservatives hope that this ruling will help weaken the Obergell vs. Hodges ruling from two years ago.


Sources: Associated Press 6/30/2017; Houston Chronicle 6/30/2017, 1/17/2014; Texas Tribune 6/30/2017; Houston Press 1/24/2017, 9/7/2016; Feminist Majority 6/26/2015

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