This week, outraged Senators demanded an immediate fix to the state foster care program that’s left 2,800 kids at high risk of abuse across Texas, early voters said they were given false information about state ID laws at the polls, and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus urged the state to lift a rule that has booted thousands of disabled children from special education programs.
Yet Texas’ three top officials spent the week drafting an argument against a year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision—an effort that only a handful of anti-LGBT conservatives even seem to care about.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a brief with the Texas Supreme Court Thursday, asking the court reconsider a Houston case that seeks to ban same-sex spouses from using health benefits that come with being married to a city employee.
The court rejected this case last month, but anti-LGBT lobbyists have refused to let it go—and have clearly convinced the state’s top politicians to do the same. In the brief, the men ask the court to clarify the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodge decision legalizing gay marriage. Some lower courts, they argued, are unclear on the law’s scope.
“[Obergefell] does not bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage,” the brief reads.
They go on to say that, specifically, the landmark ruling does not allow cities to “take steps beyond recognizing same-sex marriage—steps like subsidizing same-sex marriages...on the same terms as traditional marriages.”
Houston's city attorneys have said that the city’s benefits policy, which currently allows same-sex spousal coverage, is protected by the Obergefell ruling, which says state laws cannot exclude same-sex couples from marriage “on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.”
Few people in Texas are concerned with reigniting this Houston case—one that veils state-mandated discrimination with financial woes—but, apparently, they have unprecedented influence over Texas’ top officials.
The two men at the head of the effort are Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative Christian group Texas Values, and Jared Woodfill, head of Conservative Republicans of Texas, an anti-LGBT organization the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group. Both are known for their aggressive anti-LGBT lobbying in the state.
Saenz, who joined Texas Values shortly after his wife divorced him and married a woman, has organized a campaign asking Boy Scouts of America to uphold rules banning gay men from being scout leaders, and has even said legalizing gay marriage will “lead to people marrying their own stepchildren.” Woodfill, meanwhile, led the crusade to kill Houston equal rights ordinance on the baseless idea that allowing trans women to use women’s restrooms will endanger women and children.
And this isn’t the first time their work has been accelerated by Texas’ top brass— Governor Patrick has shown recent interest in pushing a bathroom bill into the 2017 Legislature, disguising trans discrimination by claiming it will protect women’s privacy.