When the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) officially ruled marriage equally would be the law of the land, and that gay couples would be entitled to the same rights as straight ones, that should have been that. But that may not be the case in Texas, where the state Supreme Court just dealt a blow to same-sex parents. Specifically, the state's highest court, which is made up entirely of Republican justices, decided that a lower court's previous ruling that the same-sex spouses of workers in the city of Houston are entitled to the government-subsidized benefits that those in heterosexual relationships take for granted does not stand. Instead of affirming the trial court's assessment of the issue, the Texas Supreme Court order a lower court to hear it again.
The case, Pidgeon v. Turner, began its journey to the Texas Supreme Court back in 2013, after SCOTUS determined that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — which stipulated that marriage was between one man and one woman — was unconstitutional, Slate reported. That's when then-Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, decided that it was time that the city provide benefits to the same-sex partners of its married government workers. The two taxpayers who would become the plaintiffs in the case asserted that this new mandate meant that the city was allocating "significant public funds on an illegal activity," in their challenge of it.
A significant legal tug of war — which witnessed the federal legalization of same-sex marriage in SCOTUS's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling — ensued, and the Texas Supreme Court ultimately heard the case in March.
Through all this, Houston has not stopped providing benefits, nor does the state Supreme Court's latest ruling mandate that it do so. Instead, the court decided that Obergefell v. Hodges "did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons," as the unanimous opinion read, according to the Associated Press.
In fact, the majority SCOTUS opinion in Obergefell did clearly state that same-sex unions would come with equal "rights, benefits, and responsibilities" as any other union, Slate reported. But the opponents of same-sex marriage who carried the case as far as the state Supreme Court maintained that the 2015 landmark SCOTUS ruling simply requires that same-sex couples be able to get marriage licenses, and not that all married people are entitled to benefits, according to The Texas Tribune.
Denying gay couples the same benefits others is an obvious injustice. It's also terrible for those who have kids, as those children may internalize the (false) message that their families are less than. And that's in addition to the obvious financial burden this denial poses.
While conservatives in the state are cheering the decision and even hoping that it will help to lay the groundwork for further disintegration of LGBTQ rights, LGBTQ advocates are incensed. Here's what GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis had to say in a statement, according to the Houston Chronicle:
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.
The fight isn't over yet, of course. Public opinion clearly favors same-sex marriage, even if the current presidential administration clearly doesn't support LGBTQ Americans' rights. The 2015 Obergefell decision, though, showed that equality is the future, and activists and allies will do whatever it takes to defend it.