After pressure from Texas GOP leadership, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court on Friday reversed course and agreed to take up a same-sex marriage case.
Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, the state’s highest civil court will reconsider a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. The court had previously declined to take up the case on an 8-1 vote, letting stand a lower court decision that upheld benefits for same-sex couples.
But Texas Republicans looking to narrow the scope of the landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage urged the Texas court to reconsider. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in October filed an amicus brief with the court asking it to reconsider the case.
Oral arguments have been set for March 1.
In asking the Texas Supreme Court to reopen the Houston case, state leaders also urged the court to clarify that the case that legalized same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, does not “bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage.”
They argued that Obergefell does not include a “command” that public employers “take steps beyond recognizing same-sex marriage — steps like subsidizing same-sex marriages (through the allocation of employee benefits) on the same terms as traditional marriages.”
The state leaders’ petition came more than a year after state agencies extended benefits to spouses of married gay and lesbian employees following the high court’s ruling — a move lawyers for Houston have pointed to in defending their policy. They’ve also argued that conservatives have no legal avenue to pursue in the case because the city’s policy is protected by the Obergefell ruling.
In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that marriages between couples of the same sex cannot be prohibited by states, overriding Texas’ long-standing ban on same-sex marriage. And almost a month after the ruling, Paxton quietly conceded a case against the federal government over medical leave benefits for certain same-sex couples.