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Texas Supreme Court Dismantles Marriage Equality Rights by Stripping Workplace Benefits of Gay Spouses

Texas Supreme Court Dismantles Marriage Equality Rights by Stripping Workplace Benefits of Gay Spouses

The Supreme Court of Texas. | Wikimedia Commons/WhisperToMe

The Texas Supreme Court ruled that gay spouses may not be entitled to government-subsidized workplace benefits like dental, health, or life insurance. The decision overturned a lower court's decision that favored same-sex marriage benefits and ordered the issue back to trial.

The case was brought by anti-LGBT lobbyists who questioned the inclusion of same-sex spouses in Houston's city employees' spousal benefits. By granting benefits to same-sex couples, Houston was "expending significant public funds on an illegal activity," they claimed. They based their assertion on an existing Texas law prohibiting same-sex couples from receiving such benefits.

On the other hand, pro-gay marriage lawyers argued that gay couples should have "equal dignity in the eyes of the law" as provided by the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Obergefell vs. Hodges. The High Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in that case.

In his 24-page ruling, Justice Jeffery S. Boyd wrote that while Obergefell vs. Hodges requires states to legally recognize same-sex marriages, it did not address and resolve the "specific issue" of "state spousal benefits." The U.S. Supreme Court "did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons," it read.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who told county clerks last year that they could deny marriage licenses to same sex-couples, lauded the development. "I'm extremely pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that Texas law is still important when it comes to marriage," he said.

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Conservative activist Jared Woodfill called the decision a big victory for religious rights and hopes it will push the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its gay marriage ruling someday. "Courts can change their mind," he said. "From time immemorial, family law has been left to the states," Woodfill went on to say.

The LGBTQ community wasn't pleased. Sarah Kate Ellis, who heads a gay rights group, called the ruling a "warning shot to all LGBTQ Americans that the war on marriage equality is ever-evolving, and anti-LGBTQ activists will do anything possible to discriminate against our families."

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