LGBTQ rights advocates blasted Texas’s Supreme Court for throwing out a lower court’s ruling that found that public employees who identify as LGBTQ are entitled to government-subsidized same-sex marriage benefits.
On Friday, the all-Republican court ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling “did not address and resolve” the “specific issue” of state spousal benefits, reviving a lawsuit that challenges the city of Houston’s insurance plans for married LGBTQ employees.
“The Supreme Court held … that the Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages to the same extent that they license and recognize opposite-sex marriages,” Justice Jeff Boyd wrote Friday, according to The Austin Statesman. “But it did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.”
The case, Pidgeon v. Turner, predates the Supreme Court’s 2015 same-sex marriage ruling, and arose out of former Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s 2013 decision to grant benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees who had married in other states. Parker, who is openly gay, argued same-sex couples would be entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual couples if they had wed outside of the state, the Texas Monthly reports.
Two Texas taxpayers, Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, argued that Parker’s decision was causing Houston to “expend significant public funds on an illegal activity,” given that same-sex marriages weren’t legal in Texas at the time, Slate reports. A state trial court agreed with the men, and immediately blocked the new policy. But in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, a state appeals court reversed the block. When Parker left office in 2016, current Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stepped in as defendant.
A number of LGBTQ advocacy groups immediately decried Friday’s ruling. GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis called the move “a warning shot to all LGBTQ Americans,” adding, “In the age of the Trump Administration, which continues to systematically erase LGBTQ Americans from the fabric of this nation, the LGBTQ community and our allies must remain visible and push back harder than ever against attacks on acceptance.” Lambda Legal’s Senior Counsel Kenneth D. Upton, Jr. felt similarly. “This naked attempt to undermine [Obergefell v. Hodges] and relegate married lesbian, gay, and bisexual public employees to second-class status cannot be allowed to stand,” he said in a statement.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Kali Cohn was slightly more optimistic. “It is disappointing that the Court did not take the opportunity to put this case to rest,” Cohn, who is a staff attorney of the ACLU of Texas, wrote in an email statement. “But we are confident that the lower courts will ultimately conclude what is required under the law: Houston is required to, and certainly cannot be prevented from, offering employment benefits to married couples on an equal basis, irrespective of sexual orientation.”
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