Texas Supreme Court Rules Gay Marriage Couples Do Not Have A Right To Spousal Benefits

The Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously that government-subsidized employer benefits might not have to be offered to couples in a same-sex marriage. Gay marriage activists immediately slammed the decision by the highest court in the Lone Star State.

During the Friday hearing by the Supreme Court of Texas, the justices overturned a ruling by a lower court that supported government workplace benefits for gay marriage couples. The decision pushed the controversial issue back into the courtroom.

Gay rights activists deemed the decision by the Texas Supreme Court an "absurd distortion" of the gay marriage law passed by the Supreme Court of the United States. The court ruled gay couples have the right to same-sex marriage and "equal dignity" in the "eyes of the law."

"Marriage is marriage and equal is equal. We will take steps to protect these families," Lambda Legal attorney Kenneth Upton Jr., of Dallas, said.

The Texas ruling said the United States Supreme Court determined the Constitution requires states to offer marriage licenses to gay couples and recognize same-sex marriages in the same way such unions between heterosexuals are licensed and recognized. But, the Supreme Court of Texas determined the ruling did not mandate states to offer the same publicly funded spousal benefits to all married individuals, My Statesman reports.

All the justices on the Supreme Court of Texas are Republicans, the Democrat Gazette reports. The court took on the case after Governor Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, conservative politicians, and various activist groups reportedly pushed for a review of the issue and filed multiple legal briefs supporting their position on the matter. The court filings sought to limit the scope of the United States Supreme Court same-sex marriage decision and how the law is applied at the state level.

While the Texas Supreme Court ruling did not specifically block benefits for couples in a gay marriage, it did state the United States Supreme Court had not decided how such policies were to be drafted and enforced. According to the Texas same-sex marriage decision, the higher court did not mandate that states must offer the same type of taxpayer-funded workplace benefits to all married employees.

The basis for the Texas case stemmed from a legal filing in Houston. A group of reportedly conservative advocates sued the city four years ago to thwart measures designed to offer spousal benefits to gay couples who were also municipal employees.

The groups argued that the U.S. Supreme Court didn't determine spousal benefits are a fundamental right of marriage, and therefore it should be left to individual states to determine how such benefits are handed out. The city of Houston argued the United States Supreme Court declared gay marriages are equal to heterosexual marriage and therefore all married couples must be offered the same treatment.

In 2005, voters in Texas voted in favor of a ban on gay marriage. The recent filing also deemed the case an opportunity to defend religious freedom.

"Courts can change their mind. From time immemorial, family law has been left to the states," Jared Woodfill, a conservative advocate involved in the case, said.

Woodfill also expressed his hope that one day the case would ultimately force the United States Supreme Court to overturn the existing law on same-sex marriage. She said the Houston mayor's office surpassed its authority and taxpayers should not be forced to violate their strongly-held religious beliefs by paying for the cost of same-sex marriage spousal benefits.

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