The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the 2015 Supreme Court same-sex “marriage” decision did not clearly state whether the “spouses” of homosexual government workers are entitled to benefits.
“The Supreme Court held in Obergefell 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 Jeffrey Boyd wrote on behalf of the panel.
“Of course, that does not mean … that the city may constitutionally deny benefits to its employees’ same-sex spouses,” he added. “Those are the issues that this case now presents.”
In 2013, Houston mayor Annise Parker issued an order that required the city to provide benefits to homosexual city workers “legally married” out-of-state as same-sex nuptials were illegal in Texas at the time.
The following month, a pastor and an accountant filed suit against the city, stating that Parker’s order violated the Houston city charter, the Texas Defense of Marriage Act and the state Constitution.
State Judge Lisa Millard granted an injunction against Parker, but the city moved the legal challenge to federal court, resulting in the injunction becoming moot.
However, the federal court moved the suit back to the state on jurisdictional grounds.
Following the 2015 Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, an appeals court lifted the injunction and plaintiffs Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks took the matter to the state Supreme Court.
The court declined to hear the appeal in September 2016, but supporters—with the agreement of Gov. Abbott urged the justices to reconsider.
In January, the court agreed to rehear the case, and held an oral argument hearing in March. It then released its written opinion on Friday.
“We agree with the Mayor [of Houston] that any effort to resolve whether and the extent to which the Constitution requires states or cities to provide tax-funded benefits to same-sex couples without considering Obergefell would simply be erroneous,” the court wrote.
“On the other hand, we agree … that the Supreme Court did not address and resolve that specific issue in Obergefell.”
It unanimously sent the matter back to the trial court for further consideration.
The decision upset homosexual advocates, but was praised by pro-family groups and state leadership.
“The court has limited Obergefell in terms of how broadly it should be interpreted,” attorney Jared Woodfill, who represented Pidgeon and Hicks, also stated. “It recognized that there’s an argument to be made at the trial court that taxpayer dollars should not be used in violation of one’s deeply held religious beliefs.”
Current Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters that in the interim, he will continue to offer benefits as it has been.
“The City of Houston will continue to be an inclusive city that respects the legal marriages of all employees,” he said. “Marriage equality is the law of the land, and everyone is entitled to the full benefits of marriage, regardless of the gender of their spouse.”