Taxpayers to Court: Uphold Rule of Law on Marriage

Jonathan outside Texas Supreme Court (620-240)

In the only case of its kind in the nation, attorneys proved to the Texas Supreme Court this morning that city taxpayers are not legally required to pay for same-sex spousal benefits, including insurance.

Lead attorneys Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz, Houston attorney Jared Woodfill, and Jonathan Mitchell (who argued the case), a former law clerk for the late U. S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and former Solicitor General for the State of Texas, made the case for the State to enforce Texas law that subsidizing same-sex benefits with tax dollars is illegal.

On Oct. 3, 2016, Texas Values formally asked the Texas Supreme Court to reconsider hearing a case against former Houston Mayor Annise Parker (and the City of Houston), who violated the Texas Constitution by issuing same-sex benefits (in 2013) long before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage ruling. Later that month in 2016, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a joint legal amicus brief in support of petitioners, Houston taxpayers Pastor Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks. The brief urged the Court to reinstate a temporary injunction on gay spousal benefits for Houston city employees until the Court can offer more clarity.

The brief went on to say that while Obergefell obligates the State to grant and recognize same-sex marriages, it does not bind the state courts to offer spousal benefits to gay couples.

Furthermore, the brief states, this case raises important questions of federal jurisdiction and of the relationship between federal courts and state law that go well-beyond the scope of the case.

Obergefell does not make it mandatory for cities to finance same-sex couple spousal employment benefits despite erroneous claims regarding “Equal Protection” under the Fourteenth Amendment. (See links to court briefs below.) Attorneys for the City of Houston are arguing that rights to same-sex marriage benefits should be applied retroactively going back to at least 2013.

Obergefell v. Hodges is not retroactive, and it does not overturn the violation of state law that occurred when the Mayor of Houston decided to provide employee benefits to same-sex couples prior to the decision,” said Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values. “If Obergefell were retroactive, it would have to be back to the moment the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, which would open the door to unlimited costly litigation by same-sex couples. It would mean that the city of Houston and every other municipality in the country would be liable for money damages for every couple ‘denied’ marriage recognition before Obergefell was decided.”

Saenz explained this issue could be viewed as similar to Roe v. Wade – a decision which created a constitutional right to an abortion but does not force taxpayers to pay for abortions.

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the issue of marriage licenses; there is no ruling from the High Court that taxpayers must subsidize benefits requests from any two persons,” Saenz added.

Saenz and Woodfill initially were victorious on this issue before a state trial court in Houston.

The case is Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks v. Mayor Sylvester Turner and City of Houston (15-0688).

Additional information

About Texas Values

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