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Supreme Court lets Texas ruling over gay spouse benefits stand

Profile image for Will Weissert
Will Weissert, Associated Press

AUSTIN -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a Texas ruling that gay spouses may not be entitled to government-subsidized workplace benefits -- a potential victory for social conservatives hoping to chip away at 2015's legalization of same-sex marriage.

In June, the Texas Supreme Court overturned a lower court's decision favoring spousal benefits for gay city employees in Houston, ordering the issue back to trial. That was a major reversal for the all-Republican state high court, which previously refused to even consider the benefits case after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that the Constitution grants gay couples who want to marry "equal dignity in the eyes of the law."

The Texas court changed its mind and heard the case amid intense pressure from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as dozens of other conservative elected officials, church leaders and grassroots activists. They argued that the case may help Texas limit the scope of the Supreme Court ruling, especially in how it is applied to states.

Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision to reject Houston's appeal of the Texas court decision came without dissent or comment. The case began with a coalition of religious and socially conservative groups suing America's fourth-largest city in 2013 to block a move to offer same-sex spousal benefits to municipal employees.

Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of the civil rights group GLAAD, said the U.S. Supreme Court "has just let an alarming ruling by the Texas Supreme Court stand which plainly undercuts the rights of married same-sex couples."

Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney and conservative activist at the center of the case, called Monday's action by the nation's high court, "A nice early Christmas present."

"The U.S. Supreme court could have taken the case and used it to further expand Obergefell. They chose not to," he said. "It's confirmation that the Texas Supreme Court got it right."