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In a Friday ruling, the all-Republican court said that while the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision requires states to legally recognize same-sex marriages to the same extent as they do opposite-sex marriage, it says nothing explicitly about "publicly funded benefits."
The case was brought by Houston anti-LGBT lobbyists — upset that taxpayers dollars are "subsidizing same-sex marriage" — against the City of Houston and then-mayor Annise Parker’s 2013 decision to grant benefits to same-sex for a 2013 measure allowing both same-sex and opposite-sex spouses of city employees spousal benefits. By the end of August 2016, 584 same-sex spouses had already enrolled in these plans, according to the Texas Tribune.
"We agree with the Mayor 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," wrote Justice Jeffery S. Boyd in his 24-page ruling. "On the other hand, we agree...that the Supreme Court did not address and resolve that specific issue in Obergefell."
During March's oral arguments for the case, Douglas Alexander, the attorney representing Houston, told the Texas court that the Supreme Court's ruling that all marriages be "equally regarded" applies to all aspects of same-sex marriage, including public employee spousal benefits.
“Not because there’s a fundamental right to employment benefits or spousal benefits but because there’s a fundamental right that both of those marriages be treated equally," he said.
Friday's ruling punts the case back to a Harris County district court to determine the constitutionality of Houston's benefits policy. LGBT advocates say this move from Texas' highest court completely undermines the Supreme Court's 2015 decision.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that marriage equality is settled law and requires states to treat married same-sex couples equally in every area of the law," writes Equality Texas in a Friday press release. "This will... further tarnish the reputation of this state as being unwelcome and hostile to LGBTQ Texans."
This decision falls weeks before the Texas State Legislature's special session is expected to kick off — which was largely called to continue a months-long debate over the bill meant to keep trans Texans out of bathrooms of the gender they identity with.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (who's been busy attacking other Texans' rights) applauded the court's ruling Friday morning. "I’m extremely pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that Texas law is still important when it comes to marriage."