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US Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Same-Sex Benefits Case

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Decision Comes One Day Before SCOTUS Hears Pivotal Anti-Gay Wedding Cake Baker’s Case 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a case from Houston’s appeal of a lower court ruling that said the right to a marriage license did not entitle same-sex couples to spousal benefits under employee insurance plans. The case, Pidgeon v. Turner challenged then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s announcement that the city would begin offering health insurance and other benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees.

The case began in late 2013 when two Houston taxpayers sued Mayor Parker and the City of Houston after city officials determined that an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling, U.S. v. Windsor, striking down part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), required that benefits be equally available to the legal different-sex or same-sex spouses of city employees.

A Texas state district judge initially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs but the Texas 14th Court of Appeals overturned that decision in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling.

The plaintiffs then petitioned the Texas Supreme Court for review, which initially declined to hear the case. However, after a concerted campaign lead by Texas Republicans, Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s High Court reversed itself and agreed to hear the case. That hearing took place on March 1, 2017. The plaintiffs and several “family values” Christian groups in Texas held that Obergefell didn’t settle the question of whether married same-sex couples must receive same spousal benefits as different-sex couples.

In its decision released last June 30, the court ruled against Houston in its ruling, writing, “But Obergefell is not the end either. Already, the Supreme Court has taken one opportunity to address Obergefell’s impact on an issue it did not address in Obergefell, and there will undoubtedly be others.” 

LGBTQI legal rights advocacy group, Lambda Legal, in response to the Texas Supreme Court decision in June said:

“This absurd contortion of the Obergefell ruling defies all logic and reason, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s explicit ruling on Monday that marriage is marriage and equal is equal. We will take steps to protect these families,” said Kenneth D. Upton, Jr., Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas. “The Court was very clear in the majority opinion about the scope of what marriage entails.”

“This decision is political and is an example of why elected judges are bad for LGBT people and bad for judicial independence,” added Eric Lesh, Fair Courts Project Director at Lambda Legal. 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s action returns the decision to the lower courts in Texas for further appellate action and although SCOTUS’s action set no nationwide legal precedent, it still may give a boost to conservative efforts to limit the effects of its decision in the case Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to gay couples under the Constitution. The case will now proceed in a Texas state court.

LGBTQI advocacy groups raised an alarm Monday as they see the Supreme Court’s actions as giving leeway to conservative groups and conservative justices to chip away at LGBTQI Marriage Equality. GLAAD’s Executive Director, Sarah Kate Ellis, noted in an emailed statement that the denial of certiorari in the Houston Case is troubling given that this ruling occurred one day prior to SCOTUS hearing oral arguments on another yet another case with serious implications for the LGBTQI community.

“With all eyes on tomorrow’s oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop religious exemptions case, the Supreme Court has just let an alarming ruling by the Texas Supreme Court stand which plainly undercuts the rights of married same-sex couples,” Ellis said. “Today’s abnegation by the nation’s highest court opens the door for an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step.”

That case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, arrays Christian conservative groups against the LGBTQI community. The case was brought by another anti-LGBTQI family values legal group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, representing a Colorado bakery owner, and cake artist Jack Phillips.

Phillips claimed he couldn’t design a custom wedding cake for two men who requested it sayting in court documents that “using his artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex marriage would violate his Christian faith and his artistic freedom.”

The High Court will have to decide between three constitutional rights: “sexual equality, freedom of religion and freedom of expression” in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Proponents of LGBTQI equality say that a decision in favor of Phillips would have a chilling effect on equality for LGBTQI people. The stakes are high, and could open the door for conservative businesses to spurn gay couples. 

The Trump administration, around twenty American states, dozens of members of Congress and countless Christian and conservative pressure groups have backed Phillips.

Brody Levesque is the Chief Political Correspondent for The New Civil Rights Movement.
You may contact Brody at Brody.Levesque@thenewcivilrightsmovement.com

To comment on this article and other NCRM content, visit our Facebook page.

Image by Joe Ravi via Wikimedia and a CC-BY-SA 3.0 license

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Bill Barr, the former Attorney General who served as then-President Donald Trump’s top protector, has spoken with the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack.

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The draft memo was never formalized or enacted, and it is unknown who wrote it, but it was part of a massive, hard-fought document collection given to the Jan. 6 Committee by the National Archives after the Supreme Court refused to block its release. Trump tried for months to keep his official White House records from being released.

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