After Pressure From State Leadership, Texas Supreme Court Picks Up Same-Sex Marriage Case

Last fall, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear a case with the potential to limit the impact of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Unites States Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage in June 2015. In October, Texas' Republican leadership, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, strongly urged the court to reconsider hearing the case, filed by a Houston pastor and a CPA. If the court rules for the plaintiffs, the case would absolve Texas cities from giving spousal benefits to same-sex spouses.

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the case in March.

Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, the Houston plaintiffs, filed the case to challenge a city of Houston policy that extended marriage benefits to every married city employee, regardless of their spouse's gender. With help from the state, Pidgeon and Hicks argued that Obergefell does not "bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage."

According to Abbott, Patrick and Paxton, all Obergefell requires Texas public employers to do is to recognize that the unions of employees in same-sex marriages exist. They aren't required, as Abbott, Patrick and Paxton say in a brief, to "subsidiz[e]same-sex marriages" by providing benefits to those employees.

The Supreme Court's decision doesn't retroactively allow municipalities like Houston or Dallas to violate Texas laws in place before Obergefell came down, either, the brief argues. Texas passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2005.

"It it not the duty of the state courts to divine broad principles from Supreme Court opinions and to extrapolate them to new contexts," the Republicans write in the brief. "Rather, state courts must be meticulous in examining each new claimed right and determining whether and to what extent it must be expanded in new ways."

In the immediate aftermath of Obergefell, Paxton suggested that the state of Texas and its employees weren't obligated to follow what he viewed as an unconstitutional decision. In the months that followed, however, he quietly dropped a legal challenge to providing federal Family Medical Leave Act benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages.
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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

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