Politics

Texas Supreme Court Hears Same-Sex Benefits Case

Conservatives are hoping the case, which involves spousal benefits for Houston city employees, will provide grounds to challenge the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

The Texas Supreme Court has heard arguments in Pidgeon v. Turner, a case involving same-sex spousal benefits for Houston city employees. Conservatives hope the case will provide an opening to challenge Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same sex-marriage nationwide.

The City of Houston began granting same-sex spousal benefits under then-Mayor Annise Parker, before the high court issued its landmark ruling. At issue in the Texas case is how broadly Obergefell applies.

Former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell argued on behalf of plaintiffs Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks. “We’re asking for a pronouncement from this court that Obergefell does not retroactively change the marital status of same-sex couples before June 26, 2015,” Mitchell said. “Couples that were unmarried under state law before Obergefell are not retroactively deemed married by the Obergefell decision. Otherwise, there would be ruinous financial burdens imposed not only on the City of Houston but every municipality in this state.”

Attorney Douglas Alexander argued for the city government. “If you extend spousal benefits to opposite-sex couples,” Alexander said, “then under Obergefell, you also have to extend it to same sex, not because there’s a fundamental right to employment benefits or spousal benefits, but because there’s a fundamental right that both of those marriages be treated equally.”

The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court initially refused to hear the suit. But the court reversed itself last month, amid pressure from Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as religious and conservative activists.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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