Supreme Court issues ruling on same-sex spousal benefits case

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The Texas court system is taking on the issue of workplace benefits afforded to married homosexual couples when those benefits are government-subsidized. The issue reached the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, which let stand an earlier Texas Supreme Court ruling that gay spouses may not be entitled to the benefits.

The case began when Houston made a move to offer same-sex spousal benefits to municipal employees. A coalition of socially conservative groups sued the city in 2013 to block the benefits.

The Associated Press reports that in June, “the Texas Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision favoring spousal benefits for gay city employees in Houston, ordering the issue back to trial.”

The city of Houston appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the 2015 legalization of gay marriage gives all marriages equal footing, so benefits offered to heterosexual marriages must also be offered to same-sex marriages.

Conservative groups say the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t declare spousal benefits a fundamental right of marriage, and that it should be up to states to decide the issue.

The Texas Supreme Court had initially refused to consider the benefits case, as the U.S. Supreme court had said all marriages were to be considered equal in its 2015 decision. The high court changed its mind and heard the case after conservative elected officials, church leaders and grassroots activists pushed for a court decision that might help Texas limit the scope of the Supreme Court ruling, mainly regarding how individual states could apply it.

Reportedly, it was seen that there might be a chance for Texas to defend religious liberty, as voters approved a state gay marriage ban in 2005.

Monday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to reject Houston’s appeal came without dissent or comment, the AP reports.

Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney fighting for the conservative agenda in the case, said Monday’s decision by the nation’s high court was a “nice early Christmas present.”

“The U.S. Supreme court could have taken the case and used it to further expand Obergefell. They chose not to,” he said. “It’s confirmation that the Texas Supreme Court got it right.”

He was referring to Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case in which the court ruled that the right to marry is guaranteed under the United States Constitution, and extended that right to gay couples.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the civil rights group GLAAD, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision “opens the door for an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step.”

Houston will continue paying same-sex benefits as the case progresses through lower Texas courts.

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