Supreme Court declines to hear Houston case on same-sex benefits
- The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a Texas court's ruling that found same-sex benefits might not be guaranteed under the law, according to various media reports. The High Court's inaction was a partial victory for conservative lawmakers and religious groups looking to contain the impact of the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that granted same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide, the Washington Post reports.
- Two Houston taxpayers sued the city for offering benefits to same-sex couples, which they said ran afoul of Texas' constitution. A lower Texas court ruled in favor of Houston, but the Texas Supreme Court reversed that ruling, sending the case back to trial. The main question is whether the Obergefell decision decides "all marriage related matters," such as spousal employer benefits, or whether it is limited to the legality of marriage alone.
- Houston may continue offering its benefits but the Court could pick up the dispute at a later date, Bloomberg reports.
After the High Court made same-sex marriage legal, employers had to adjust their benefits offerings. Many organizations offered domestic partner benefits before same-sex marriage was recognized. But after Obergefell, employers could eliminate domestic partner benefits and essentially treat same-sex partners the way they treated different-sex partners. The result was a more streamlined benefits program.
The Texas court's decision further complicates the issue of LGBT protections, and could eventually have implications for states with similar stances on marriage.
For now, Houston continues to offer the benefits, and experts recommend that private employers in the state refrain from changing course. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that offering different benefits to same-sex spouses is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (notwithstanding the current legal challenges facing the protection of sexual orientation by Title VII in the first place).