Texas Supreme Court: states not required to provide publicly funded benefits to same-sex couples

Texas Supreme Court: states not required to provide publicly funded benefits to same-sex couples

The Supreme Court of Texas [official website] held [opinion, PDF] on Friday that the Houston’s benefits policy need not extend to same-sex couples. In so holding, the Court concluded that: “The [US] 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.” The trial court had issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the mayor and the city of Houston from “furnishing benefits to persons who were married in other jurisdictions to City employees of the same sex.” The Court of Appeals reversed the injunction and remanded the case back to the trial court holding that the lower court must conduct its proceedings consistent with the federal Fifth Circuit decision in DeLeon v. Perry. The Texas Supreme Court disagreed, but vacated the trial court injunction holding that:

The trial court should certainly proceed on remand “in light of” De Leon, but it is not required to proceed “consistent with” it … We hold that the court of appeals’ judgment does not bar Pidgeon from seeking all appropriate relief on remand or bar the Mayor from opposing that relief. We hold that the court of appeals did not err by failing to affirm the temporary injunction “to the extent” it required the City to claw back payments made prior to Obergefell. And we decline to instruct the trial court how to construe Obergefell on remand.

The plaintiffs’ central argument was that the extension of marriage benefits goes farther than the US Supreme Court [official website] contemplated in Obergefell v. Hodges [SCOTUSblog materials], which granted [JURIST report] same-sex couples the right to have their marriages legally recognized. The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court originally declined to hear this case, but reconsidered [NPR report] under pressure from many top Texas Republicans, including Governor Greg Abbott, and state Attorney General Ken Paxton [official websites].

Same-sex couple rights have become one of the most controversial issues facing society in the past few years, with mixed developments around the world. On Friday Germany’s lower house of Parliament (Bundestag) [official website] voted [JURIST report] 393-226 to legalize same-sex marriage. This development follows Bundestag’s passing of a bill [JURIST report] last week to compensate thousands of individuals in Germany who had been persecuted and imprisoned for their sexuality. On Tuesday the US Supreme Court agreed to hear [JURIST report] a case concerning a bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. In May Taiwan’s constitutional court, the Judicial Yuan [official website], declared [JURIST report] that same-sex marriages will be legally recognized. In April Nigeria prosecutors in Kaduna charged 53 men [JURIST report] for celebrating an LGBTQ wedding in violation of the state’s law against ‘unlawful assembly’ and the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act [text, PDF]. Earlier the same month the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld [JURIST report] a lower court decision overruling the Nebraska’s long-time ban on same sex partner foster parenting.