For what appears to be no other reason beyond This Is Texas, the Texas Supreme Court has agreed to hear a real head-scratcher about whether legally married gay couples should be entitled to the same marriage benefits that other legally married city employees enjoy.
The case arises out of Houston and was filed in 2013, after former Mayor Annise Parker decided to extend city-employee marriage benefits to gay couples who were legally married in other states. Two conservatives, Larry Hicks and Pastor Jack Pidgeon, argued this was a waste of taxpayer dollars and sued the City of Houston in attempt to keep the benefits from gay married couples.
But after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges guaranteed marriage equality for all LGBT couples in June 2015, a judge tossed out the lawsuit. But those dogged taxpayers never gave up on the case, refusing to take no for an answer — even after the Texas Supreme Court originally declined to hear their appeal in September...on the basis of Obergefell.
Since then, however, the justices have apparently changed their minds. The court was presumably swayed to take up the case after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick filed an amicus brief pleading with the court to clear up that complicated question of whether marriage equality extends to equal marriage benefits.
"While the U.S. Supreme Court did recognize a right to same-sex marriage, there are a host of issues in that area of the law that remain unresolved," Paxton said in a statement last October. "I applaud Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Patrick for their leadership in asking that state courts give serious consideration to these weighty, unresolved questions."
For a preview of the type of arguments bound to take center stage in this case, it's perhaps best to review a dissenting opinion from Justice John Devine, filed in September at the time his colleagues first voted not to hear this case, which he believed was a mistake. Devine's reasoning as to why gay couples shouldn't get marriage benefits? Maybe the state thinks they don't contribute to "procreation." We'll let him explain in his own words:
"The State may well have believed that offering certain benefits to opposite-sex couples would encourage procreation within marriage. After all, benefits such as health insurance provide financial security as couples decide whether to have a child. An opposite-sex marriage is the only marital relationship where children are raised by their biological parents. In any other relationship, the child must be removed from at least one natural parent, perhaps two, before being adopted by her new parent(s). This does not diminish any child’s inherent dignity, a fact the City presumably recognizes by extending benefits to their employees’ children regardless of the employees’ marital status. But it does explain why the State might choose to direct resources to opposite-sex couples."
For the record, Devine was alone in this opinion.
Oral arguments are scheduled for March 1.
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