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Texas Supreme Court Rules Spousal Benefits Don’t Extend to Same-Sex Couples

August 3rd, 2017

Same-sex couples in Texas are being denied spousal benefits.

Same-sex couples in Texas are being denied spousal benefits.

The Texas Supreme Court recently declined to extend spousal benefits to same-sex couples. In a unanimous decision, the Texas Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision to extend health and life insurance benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees.

The Facts of the Case

In 2013, the mayor of Houston ordered the city to extend spousal benefits to same-sex spouses who had been legally married. Two taxpayers in Houston sued Houston’s mayor, who had extended spousal benefits to same-sex couples despite a city amendment that banned this practice. These taxpayers argued that no city employees in the state of Texas have a fundamental right to receive spousal benefits from the government. Because no fundamental right to these benefits exists, the taxpayers argued that benefits could be denied to same-sex couples.

The Legal Proceedings in the Case

The state trial court ruled in favor of the state of Texas and blocked extending spousal benefits to same-sex couples. In 2015 while the city of Houston was in the process of appealing this decision, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Obergefell which overturned state prohibitions on same-sex marriage. After the Court of Appeals heard the case and ruled that these benefits could be granted to same-sex couples, the Texas Supreme Court initially refused to hear the issue. The court, however, made the decision to reopen the case, “under pressure from top Texas Republicans.”

The Texas Supreme Court found that while the United States Supreme Court has legally recognized same-sex marriage, the court has not decided the issue of spousal benefits. As a result of this decision, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the trial court must decide this case with the instruction that the supreme court has not yet decided whether states must provide the same government spousal benefits to all married individuals.

The Defense’s Argument on Spousal Benefits

The defense, in this case, argued that all marriages in the state of Texas should be viewed equally. Because marriages should always be viewed equally, defense alleges, this perspective should extend to spousal benefits. The defense also argued that denying spousal benefits, in this case, would tarnish the future of LGBTQ rights in the state.

The Future of LGBTQ Rights

After issuing this decision, the court ordered that the case be sent back to trial court. This ruling will most directly the 584 same-sex spouses in the state who have already enrolled in these plans. Despite the United States Supreme Court’s decision to grant the right to marry in 2014 to same-sex couples in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, there are still many unresolved issues concerning the extent of LGBTQ rights. In reaching its recent decision, the Texas Supreme Court declined to articulate what rights are granted to same-sex couples. The Universal Life Church’s blog aims to describe recent updates concerning these rights to keep our readers informed.

(image courtesy of Priscilla du Preez)

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