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In 2013, Houston mayor Annise Parker directed that same-sex spouses of city employees who were legally married in another state be afforded the same benefits as different-sex spouses of city employees. Two individuals, represented by the anti-LGBTQ group Texas Values, filed a lawsuit in Texas state court challenging the extension of benefits to same-sex spouses, arguing that it violated Texas’s prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples.
In 2015, while the Texas case was pending, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that the U.S. Constitution requires states to allow same-sex couples to marry, and that states must treat the marriages of same-sex couples the same as the marriages of other couples for all purposes under state law. Based on the decision in Obergefell, the Texas Court of Appeals rejected the challenge to the Houston equal benefits policy.
The plaintiffs requested review of the decision by the Texas Supreme Court. After initially declining review, in January 2017 the state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case at the urging of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
NCLR, along with GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a friend of the court brief urging the Texas Supreme Court to affirm the Court of Appeals decision rejecting the challenge to the Houston policy. The brief argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell clearly requires all state and local governments to provide equal benefits to the same-sex spouses of government employees. NCLR and the other organizations were represented by former acting United States Solicitor General Walter Dellinger of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
On June 30, 2017, the Texas Supreme Court issued a decision reversing the Texas Court of Appeals and sending the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The court ruled that the trial court should have an opportunity to hear the parties arguments’ about the effect of Obergefell on the Houston benefits policy. The court declined to directly address whetherObergefell requires local governments to provide equal benefits to same-sex spouses of their employees, but instead directed the lower courts to consider that issue first.
On October 20, 2017, NCLR and GLAD filed an amicus brief urging the United States Supreme Court to review the Texas Supreme Court’s decision and rule that Obergefell requires Texas to provide the same benefits to same-sex married couples as it provides to other spouses. The Supreme Court declined to review the decision, returning the case to the lower courts in Texas for further proceedings.