Legal Battles

Supreme Court Turns Down Texas Case That Could Undercut Same-Sex Marriage Law

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a decision made earlier this year by the Texas Supreme Court, opening the door for the state of Texas and its municipalities to potentially limit benefits and privileges extended to couples in same-sex marriages in the state.

In June, the Texas court ruled that Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States, explicitly requires states to recognize same-sex marriage. The decision, the Texas Supreme Court said, does not necessarily require the state of Texas or its cities to extend the same benefits to state or municipal employees in same-sex marriages that it does to other married state and municipal 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, but it did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons,” Justice Jeff Boyd wrote for the court.

The Texas Supreme Court's decision sent the lawsuit that started the case, which challenges the city of Houston's policy of extending the same-sex spouses of city employees with the same government-subsidized benefits afforded other employees' spouses, back to state district court so the lower court could determine which benefits cities are and aren't required to provide same-sex spouses. The city of Houston appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that it violated the precedent established by Obergefell.

Jonathan Saenz, one the lawyers for plaintiffs in the case, called the U.S Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case an early holiday gift.

“This is an incredible early Christmas present from the U. S. Supreme Court for taxpayers. We’re grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed our lawsuit to go forward,” Saenz said. "[W]e intend hold the city accountable for [former Mayor Annise] Parker’s lawless actions and her unauthorized expenditures of taxpayer money."

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, said the court's decision not to take the case opens the door for states to chip away at the rights of LGBTQ Americans.

"The Supreme Court has just let an alarming ruling by the Texas Supreme Court stand which plainly undercuts the rights of married same-sex couples,” Ellis said. “Today’s abnegation by the nation’s highest court opens the door for an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step.”
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young