Justices reject Houston appeal over benefits for gay spouses

Frederick Owens
December 5, 2017

Houston appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which today rejected the case without comment, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

The Supreme Court has declined to step into a case over a Texas high court ruling that says gay spouses may not be entitled to government-subsidized workplace benefits.

That's despite the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015 and noted that now-defunct marriage laws were unequal in how they denied same-sex couples the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples.

The justice said although Floyd's framing of the arguments in his petition undercut his request for review, in any other context "courts reviewing claims in circumstances like these must be steadfast in identifying, investigating, and correcting for improper bias in the jury selection process".

Following the Obergefell ruling, public employers in Texas, including state agencies and public universities, quickly extended marriage benefits to spouses of gay and lesbian employees.

"Equal recognition of same-sex marriage requires more than a marriage license; it requires equal access to the constellation of benefits that the state has linked to marriage", the city's lawyers told the court. 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.

In 2013, while Annise Parker, an out lesbian, was mayor of Houston, she offered employee benefits to same-sex spouses, causing gay marriage opponents to sue.

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Pidgeon and Hicks, also backed by state Republican leaders, argued that the benefits violated the Texas constitution and state and local laws against same-sex marriage. The city appealed the case, which was denied by the US Supreme Court.

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said in June that Houston would continue to be an inclusive city that respects the legal marriages of all employees.

But opponents of gay marriage launched a pressure campaign, sending a barrage of emails and letters to the all-Republican court warning of retribution in the GOP primaries if they did not reconsider.

The Texas high court had initially been reluctant to take the case, but chose to do so under pressure from Republican officials and antigay activists, including the Texas governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

The high court ruled that states must give same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples or else the state would be giving same-sex couples "disparate treatment", something forbidden under Obergefell.

"This is an incredible early Christmas present from the U. S. Supreme Court for taxpayers".

The case of Masterpiece Cakeshop versus Colorado Civil Rights Commission began five years ago when Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins asked Phillips to make a cake for their wedding reception. "We're grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed our lawsuit to go forward", Saenz said. Such a ruling again could be appealed to the nation's top court. The lawsuit was then forced to go back to the Houston District Court to determine that issue - whether Obergefell applies to spousal benefits for gays.

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