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Texas Supreme Court Takes On Same-Sex Spousal Benefits Case

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On Wednesday morning, the Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a same-sex marriage case from Houston.

Lawyers for Houston said in opening arguments at the Texas Supreme Court that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that same-sex marriages should be treated equally nationwide and its decision means Houston is obliged to provide the benefits. They argue that the case may help Texas limit the scope of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, especially in how it's applied at the state level.

Local stories from KERA News.

The Texas Supreme Court initially declined to hear the case in September.

Abbot, Patrick and Paxton argue that Houston has "taken steps beyond" the 2015 court ruling, claiming that the city is "subsidizing same-sex marriages... on the same terms as traditional marriages".

The plaintiff taxpayers sued to prevent cities like Houston from granting employee benefits to same-sex couples who were married in a state that recognized gay marriage when Texas law had a constitutional provision against it.

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Chuck Smith, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, says the expansion of benefits is implied in the high court's ruling. The Supreme Court has discretionary jurisdiction to hear cases. "If you extend spousal benefits to opposite-sex couples", Alexander said, "then under Obergefell, you also have to extend it to same sex, not because there's a fundamental right to employment benefits or spousal benefits, but because there's a fundamental right that both of those marriages be treated equally". The decision by the Texas Supreme Court at that point to not review the lower court's decision left in place a ruling that cities can not deprive married same-sex couples the benefits it provides to opposite-sex couples. The all Republican court then accepted the case.

At issue in the Texas case is how broadly Obergefell applies. "Marriage is a fundamental right".

Attorney Douglas Alexander argued for the city government.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement Wednesday that the city "is confident that the Texas Supreme Court will follow its practice of requiring strict compliance with decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court". "Spousal benefits are not", he wrote in his dissent.

But the court reversed itself last month amid pressure from Texas' governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and leading religious and conservative activists.

"Would you file a writ on that to the Supreme Court if you were a state official?"

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