Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston continue to fight for equality in marriage benefits by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an earlier decision about publicly-funded benefits for same-sex couples. The continuing debate has many questioning whether Texas is really prepared to embrace diversity and equality.
City of Houston Fighting for Rights of Employees
The case Mayor Turner and the City of Houston is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review is Pidgeon v. Parker, a June 2017 case that resulted in the Texas Supreme Court ruling that states were not required to provide government employee benefits to married persons, regardless of same-sex or opposite-sex couples. This ruling did not prevent states or cities like Houston from providing benefits, but did not make headway in clarifying the rights and benefits of same-sex spouses.
In 2015, the case of Obergefell v. Hodges broke ground when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must license and recognize same-sex couples in the same way they do opposite-sex couples. Unfortunately, Obergefell (as it is commonly referred) did not address the issue of benefits. Since 2015, a number of cases and debates have arisen over the lack of clarity, and some states’ attempts to preclude same-sex couples from receiving benefits in the same way that opposite-sex couples would. Paven v. Smith is another well-known case that also failed to clarify spousal benefits and rights for same-sex spouses.
The City of Houston has continued to offer spousal benefits to all married employees, regardless of their classification of same-sex or opposite-sex. In fact, the City began offering spousal benefits for same-sex couples in 2013. Some parties have attempted to stop the City from providing benefits, and others have gone so far as to request that same-sex spouses pay back benefits they received before Obergefell. The ongoing fight is in the hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will establish “constitutional rights guaranteed under Obergefell and Pavan” for all married couples.
Undercutting Marriage Equality
If states or cities offer spousal benefits to opposite-sex couples but not same-sex couples, then marriage equality is clearly being undercut. Supporters of more clarified, guaranteed constitutional rights for same-sex spouses believe that preventing benefits, or requiring benefits be paid back, defies the goals (and logic) of what was accomplished in Obergefell.
Equality is one of the hottest topics in our society right now, with discrimination following closely behind. Regardless of their gender make up, all couples should have access to the same resources to protect themselves and their loved ones.
At Daic Law, it is our hope that the City of Houston, Mayor Turner, and everyone else standing up in the fight for equality will eventually succeed. Discrimination for any reason is unacceptable and should not be tolerated – in our schools, workplaces, government, healthcare systems, or anywhere else. If you believe that you have been discriminated against based on your race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any other reason, contact Daic Law today to speak with our labor and employment attorney. Call us at (713) 808-5246, or fill out our online form to get started.