Texas Supreme Court to Revisit Same-Sex Marriage Case

Feb 28, 2017

The Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case that challenges local government employee benefits for married same-sex couples.

At stake is whether the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide requires public agencies to provide taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees.

Chuck Smith, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, tells KUT’s Becky Fogel that he’s the first to admit there’s no constitutional right to employee benefits. But, he says, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is clear: When it comes to marriage, same-sex couples have to be treated the same as opposite-sex couples.

“So if the City of Houston, or any employer, provides benefits to its married opposite-sex employees, it is obligated to extend those same benefits, on the same terms and conditions, to same-sex married couples,” he says. 

The Texas Supreme Court initially declined to hear the case, which challenged Houston’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. In an 8-1 decision, justices let stand a lower court decision upholding benefits.

But the state's high court reversed course last month under pressure from top Texas Republicans. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus brief in October asking the all-Republican court to reconsider. They also asked the court to clarify that the U.S. Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, does not “bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage.”