Texas Supreme Court Refuses to Dismiss Challenge to Spousal Benefits for Houston City Employees

In a clear misreading of the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling from 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584, especially as elucidated just days earlier by that Court in Pavan v. Smith, 2017 WL 2722472 (June 26), the Texas Supreme Court unanimously refused on June 30 to dismiss a lawsuit by two disgruntled Houston taxpayers who argue that the city of Houston may not provide employee benefits for the same-sex spouses of its employees. The case is Pidgeon v. Turner, 2017 Tex. LEXIS 654, 2017 WL 2829350.

Instead, while affirming a ruling by the Texas Court of Appeals that had reversed the preliminary injunction that a Texas trial court issued in 2014 against payment of the benefits, the Texas Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court for it to decide whether the Obergefell decision obligates Houston to provide equal benefits to same-sex spouses of its employees, and also to consider the taxpayers’ argument that the city should be required to “claw back” the value of benefits that were paid prior to Obergefell, on the theory that Texas’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages contracted out-of-state was valid until the U.S. Supreme Court ruling was announced.

For the full story, access the Summer 2017 issue of LGBT Law Notes.