Politics

Houston Is At the Center Of Same-Sex Marriage Benefits Ruling

The suit charges Houston broke state law by paying for health insurance for the spouses of gay and lesbian city employees.

The Texas Supreme Court has questioned whether same-sex spouses are legally entitled to government-subsidized workplace benefits. The decision sends the case back to a district trial court.

Plaintiffs charge that Houston broke state law by using tax dollars to pay same-sex spousal benefits. The case has been brewing for three years, during which time the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

“What the Supreme Court of Texas said today was it’s an open question whether that includes the provision of government-sponsored health benefits,” says Josh Blackman, an associate professor at South Texas College of Law Houston.

The all-Republican state supreme court initially declined to hear the benefits case. It agreed to do so following a write-in campaign, as well as pressure from Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“I’m extremely pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that Texas law is still important when it comes to marriage,” said Paxton in a statement released by his office.

Kenneth Upton is senior counsel in the regional office of Lambda Legal. The LGBT civil rights group has been assisting the City of Houston with the case. “If it allows other similar attacks to go forward, it could involve all kinds of employees, not just city employees,” says Upton. “Could involve state employees. Could involve employees who receive agency benefits, people who work for colleges and universities.”

In a statement, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is reviewing its options, but in the meantime, Houston will continue to pay spousal benefits to all eligible employees.

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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 Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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