WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to weigh in on a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court expressing that the nation’s highest court has not made clear whether the “spouses” of homosexual government workers are entitled to benefits.
The nine justices denied the appeal of Turner v. Pidgeon without comment on Monday, along with dozens of other petitions for certiorari from across the country.
“We are very excited about our win today in front of the United States Supreme Court. The court decision confirms that the Texas Supreme Court’s 9-0 decision reversing the Court of Appeals was correct,” attorney Jared Woodfill said in a statement.
As previously reported, in 2013, Houston Mayor Annise Parker issued an order that required the city to provide benefits to homosexual city workers “legally married” out-of-state as same-sex nuptials were illegal in Texas at the time.
The following month, a pastor and an accountant filed suit against the city, stating that Parker’s order violated the Houston city charter, the Texas Defense of Marriage Act and the state Constitution.
State Judge Lisa Millard granted an injunction against Parker, but the city moved the legal challenge to federal court, resulting in the injunction becoming moot. However, the federal court moved the suit back to the state on jurisdictional grounds.
Following the 2015 Supreme Court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, an appeals court lifted the injunction and plaintiffs Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks took the matter to the state Supreme Court. The court declined to hear the appeal in September 2016, but supporters—with the agreement of Gov. Abbott urged the justices to reconsider.
In January, the court agreed to rehear the case, and held an oral argument hearing in March. It then released its written opinion in June.
“We agree with the mayor [of Houston] that any effort to resolve whether and the extent to which the Constitution requires states or cities to provide tax-funded benefits to same-sex couples without considering Obergefell would simply be erroneous,” Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote on behalf of the panel. “On the other hand, we agree … that the Supreme Court did not address and resolve that specific issue in Obergefell.”
“The Supreme Court held in Obergefell that the Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages to the same extent that they license and recognize opposite-sex marriages, but it did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons,” he said. “Of course, that does not mean … that the city may constitutionally deny benefits to its employees’ same-sex spouses. Those are the issues that this case now presents.”
The court unanimously sent the matter back to the trial court for further consideration.
Following the ruling, Houston appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court denied the petition.
“We’re grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed our lawsuit to go forward,” Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz, who is representing Pidgeon and Hicks, said in a statement on Monday. “Mayor Annise Parker defied the law by providing spousal benefits to same-sex couples at a time when same-sex marriage was illegal in Texas, and we intend hold the city accountable for Parker’s lawless actions and her unauthorized expenditures of taxpayer money.”
Sarah Kate Ellis of the homosexual advocacy group GLAAD decried the court’s denial as permitting other similar lawsuits at the state level.
“The Supreme Court has just let an alarming ruling by the Texas Supreme Court stand which plainly undercuts the rights of married same-sex couples,” she stated, according to the Dallas Observer. “Today’s abnegation by the nation’s highest court opens the door for an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step.”