Texas Supreme Court throws case back to Lower Courts on state employee Same Sex Spousal Benefits!

Texas is poised to become the most ANTI-LGBTQ state in the nation. Today, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that said spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized same-sex marriage benefits which were put in place after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision on June 26, 2015.

As part of a case challenging Houston’s benefits policy, the Texas Supreme Court suggested a landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage does not fully address the right to marriage benefits. Justice Jeffrey Boyd, wrote the 24 page opinions on behalf of the court  saying there’s still room for state courts to explore the “reach and ramifications” of Obergefell.

“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,” Boyd wrote.“On the other hand, we agree… that the Supreme Court did not address and resolve that specific issue in Obergefell.”  as stated in this mornings edition of the Texas Tribune.

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with that argument, noting that Obergefell requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages in the same manner as opposite-sex marriages but did not hold that “states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.”

That does not mean Houston can “constitutionally deny benefits to its employees’ same-sex spouses,” the court added, but the issue must now be resolved “in light of Obergefell.”

The Texas Supreme Court also made note of two moves by the U.S. Supreme Court this week as proof that courts are still weighing Obergefell’s impact.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reversed a ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that kept married same-sex couples from being treated the same as opposite-sex couples on their children’s birth certificates. The court said it reversed the ruling because the “differential treatment infringes Obergefell’s commitment to provide same-sex couples ‘the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.’” The court also decided they would take up a case involving whether a Colorado baker can legally refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because of religious objections.

The decision of the Colorado baker will also give us some guidance on how the SCOTUS will be looking at the cases being filed against the new TX 3859 law that allows “Religious Discrimination” in adopting to LGBTQ couples, single parents, Muslim, Jewish and other non-Christian religions, women who have previously had abortions, the list would just go on for who the Radical Right Christian Taliban would be able to discriminate.

In 2013, two Houston taxpayers, backed by Texas Republican leaders, sued the city after then-Mayor Annise Parker gave municipal spousal benefits to same-sex couples married in places where same-sex marriages were recognized. At the time, Texas had a constitutional amendment that barred same-sex marriage. That law was later struck down.

The plaintiffs, Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, a pastor and an accountant, argued that the top U.S. court’s decision on same-sex marriage was poorly reasoned and that same-sex couples were not entitled to spousal employment benefits.

Rights groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people contended the plaintiffs were trying to erode the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on an already settled matter.

“This absurd contortion of the Obergefell ruling defies all logic and reason,” said Kenneth Upton, senior counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, an LGBT rights legal group. LGBT rights groups have said they intended to appeal if the Texas court’s decision went against them.

The decision by the Texas Supreme Court to take up the case was regarded as an unusual move because it had previously declined to take it up last year. That allowed the lower court decision to stand.

But the state’s highest civil court reversed course in January after receiving a multitude of letters opposing the decision. They also faced pressure from Texas GOP leadership — spearheaded by Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton— who asked the court to clarify that Obergefell does not include a “command” to public employers regarding employee benefits.

That request to the court came more than a year after state agencies moved to extend benefits of LGBTQ same sex spouses just days after the high court’s ruling. As of Aug. 31, 584 same-sex spouses had enrolled in insurance plans — including health, dental or life insurance — subsidized by the state, according to a spokeswoman for the Employees Retirement System.

TX Attorney General Ken Paxton was happy with the court’s ruling, saying he was “extremely pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that Texas law is still important when it comes to marriage.”

LGBT advocates on Friday were enraged by the Texas court’s ruling. Equality Texas called it “patently indefensible,” and Lambda Legal said it “defies all logic and reason.”

“The Texas Supreme Court’s decision this morning is a warning shot to all LGBTQ Americans that the war on marriage equality is ever-evolving, and anti-LGBTQ activists will do anything possible to discriminate against our families,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. Advocates are likely to push for the case to be appealed to federal courts.

In an AP article from June 26th, 2013 “In a major victory for gay rights, the U.S. Supreme Court on today struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples and cleared the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California.

The justices issued two 5-4 rulings in their final session of the term. One decision wiped away part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits.”

So here we go again. As we prepare for a battle in a special session in Texas to fight yet another attempt to pass a “Bathroom Bill” we will be watching this case in Houston. Will Governor Abbott, Lt. Go. Dan Patrick and Atty. Gen. Dan Paxton attempt to take away benefits such as health insurance form same sex married couples?? Most likely they will but we know LAMDA Legal, the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, Equality Texas and many other national organizations will be there fighting back against the Republican Religious Right who so rampantly are trying to take away same sex benefits and force religious refusal and bring about the most Anti-LGBTQ state in the United States.