The Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously Friday that gay couples have no inherent right to government-funded spousal benefits.
The all-Republican nine-member court ruled that while the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, the “reach and ramifications” of the rights of gay couples are still up in the air.
The nation’s highest court legalized same-sex marriage, but did not detail what additional rights are guaranteed to such couples, according to the Texas court.
Conservative groups applauded the decision, calling it a ruling that protects traditional marriage.
Supporters of gay marriage said the Texas court got it wrong, arguing that the Supreme Court clearly stated that all marriages, traditional and same-sex, must be treated equally.
“The Texas Supreme Court’s decision this morning is a warning shot to all LGBTQ Americans that the war on marriage equality is ever-evolving, and anti-LGBTQ activists will do anything possible to discriminate against our families,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD.
The case stemmed from a dispute in 2013, when then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the city’s first openly gay mayor, was sued by two local taxpayers for her decision to grant government-subsidized spousal benefits to gay couples who were married in other states.
The two taxpayers, a pastor and a CPA, sued Parker, arguing that no city employees had a “fundamental right” to receive government-funded spousal benefits and that it was “perfectly constitutional” to grant benefits to traditionally married couples and deny them to same-sex couples.
The case appeared to be dead in the water when the state of Texas began extending spousal benefits to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015.
But conservative groups continued to press their case. Pressure by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton led the state’s Supreme Court to re-hear the case in March.
The state court ruling sends the issue back to a Harris County district court, which must consider whether the city of Houston is required to provide spousal benefits to same-sex couples.
“Pidgeon and the mayor, like many other litigants throughout the country, must now assist the courts in fully exploring Obergefell’s reach and ramifications, and are entitled to the opportunity to do so,” Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote in the Texas court’s decision. “We reverse the court of appeals’ judgment, vacate the trial court’s temporary injunction order.”
Supporters of gay marriage say they will appeal the ruling.