Top Officials Ask Texas Supreme Court to Revisit Same-Sex Benefits Case

The new brief is “extremely strange,” says one legal scholar – like a “list of ingredients” without a recipe to follow.

By Rhonda FanningOctober 31, 2016 12:06 pm

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled bans on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. But as much of a landmark case as that was, some say it left an open interpretation of that right and its associated rights.

Top Texas officials filed an amicus brief last Thursday with the Texas Supreme Court, asking judges to reconsider a Houston lawsuit from early September. At the heart of the case is whether the affirmation of same-sex marriage across the country also compels public employers to extend benefits to married same-sex couples.

Two taxpayers brought the case against the City of Houston, challenging an employer’s decision to provide insurance benefits to same-sex couples who had gotten married in another state before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Charles “Rocky” Rhodes, professor at the South Texas College of Law, says Houston originally lost the case in a lower court. But on appeal, the appellate court ruled public employers, like the city of Houston, cannot deny same-sex spousal benefits through plans offered to their employees.

The Texas Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which effectively let the appellate court’s ruling stand.

Now Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton want the case taken up again. But Rhodes says the brief they submitted is “extremely strange.”

“It’s kind of like writing a recipe and creating a great list of ingredients, but then not explaining and providing any directions about how those ingredients can be formed to make a cake,” Rhodes says. “The governor’s brief never explains how, in any way, shape or form, the city of Houston doesn’t have the obligation now to provide these benefits… They just make some grand legal theory points without actually applying it to this particular case.”

Rhodes, for his part, says he doesn’t think the Texas Supreme Court will take up this case again.

“Deciding not to hear this case is an easy way out because the law’s pretty clear,” Rhodes says. “[The court is] very good about following the law established by the U.S Supreme Court. … I think that’s easier for them politically when they run for reelection in the next couple of years, rather than that they issued an opinion.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.