Chipping away at marriage equality

Houston's then-Mayor, Annise Parker, directed the city to pay spousal benefits to legally married same-sex couples in 2013, after the "Windsor" decision. File photo.

by Rob Howard
Associate Editor

Conservative activists simply won’t accept that the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision extended marriage equality to same-sex couples across the United States. A Texas state Supreme Court ruling last week narrowly interprets the rights of same-sex married couples.

Activists in Houston  filed a request in state District Court in Harris County that Houston be ordered to stop paying spousal benefits to same-sex couples. They also want to get back all of those benefits paid to couples since November 2013, according to an Associated Press report.

Mark Stern, writing on, commented on the ruling, saying, “Texas law prohibits same-sex couples from receiving such benefits. After the Supreme Court struck down the federal same-sex marriage ban in 2013, the Houston city attorney advised then-Mayor Annise Parker that this prohibition ran afoul of the Constitution.

“While the Texas law remains on the books, Parker mandated that it no longer be enforced in Houston, ordering the city to ‘extend benefits’ to government employees’ same-sex spouses who’d been legally married elsewhere.”

Stern continued, “Now the justices have ruled, and their decision is a blow to the constitutional equality of same-sex couples. According to the court, Obergefell ‘did not address and resolve’ the ‘specific issue’ of state spousal benefits.

“Therefore, the state appeals court erred in ordering the trial court to resolve the case ‘consistent with Obergefell and De Leon.’ Instead, the Texas Supreme Court insisted, the trial court must settle the issue itself—keeping in mind that Obergefell “did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.”

The state Supreme Court might have considered that Obergefell is far broader than dealing with narrow issues.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in Obergefell, said, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.” (Emphasis added.)

It would seem that that would include receiving any benefits give to opposite sex married couples, where the governing factor is the fact that the couple is married. Obergefell made same-sex couples equal with other couples.

Justice Kennedy ended the decision by stating, “The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex. (Emphasis added.)

The AP, concluding its report on the conservative activists action in Houston, said, “Opponents hope the case will chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage, arguing that that decision doesn't mean gay couples have inherent rights to spousal benefits.”

Copyright 2017 The Gayly – July 7, 2017 @ 3:15 p.m.