Recently, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) announced it would not review a decision by the Texas State Supreme Court to deny benefits for same-sex spouses of Houston city employees.
The Court passed on hearing a June decision from a Texas court, which effectively legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 and some state officials argue does not extend the same employment benefits to same-sex spouses.
Brought by the City of Houston before the Supreme Court in Washington, attorneys representing city employees with same-sex spouses argued their spouses should receive the same benefits as their colleagues in opposite-sex marriages, citing Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 landmark Supreme Court decision requiring each state to recognize and license same-sex marriages just as they do opposite-sex pairings.
“Equal recognition of same-sex marriage requires more than a marriage license; it requires equal access to the constellation of benefits that the state has linked to marriage,” Houston attorneys’ briefs read.
Many municipal and state employers in Texas, a state where many still oppose same-sex marriage, began extending spousal benefits to employees in homosexual relationships.
However, attorneys representing a group opposed to equal rights for same-sex couples argued the Obergefell decision did not “entail any particular package of tax benefits, employee fringe benefits or testimonial privileges.”
Although the Obergefell ruling specifically mentioned “marriage-related benefits,” the Texas Supreme Court ruled state courts still possess some power to determine the “reach and ramifications” of how the SCOTUS ruling may affect each state.
“We agree…that any effort to resolve whether and the extent to which the Constitution requires states or cities to provide tax-funded benefits to same-sex couples without considering Obergefell would simply be erroneous,” the Supreme Court ruling dismissing the prospective case read in part.“On the other hand, we agree… that the Supreme Court did not address and resolve that specific issue in Obergefell.”
According to legal experts, the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case means the Texas ruling stands for now, but officials with the City of Houston said they will continue to offer spousal benefits for same-sex couples.