Last week, state gay marriage opponents asked the Texas Supreme Court to reconsider a lawsuit they brought against the City of Houston for granting health benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees.
Sure, the U.S. Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the right to marry in its 2015 decision, the opponents argue, but the court didn’t say they’re allowed the same rights most couples have beyond marriage. Specifically, the right to health benefits that come with being married to a government employee.
The court had dismissed this lawsuit last month, but the two anti-LGBT lobbyists at the helm of the suit—Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative group Texas Values, and Jared Woodfill, head of Conservative Republicans of Texas—aren’t ready to let it go. And they’ve got serious right-wing support. On Friday, 70 conservative state lawmakers and Christian leaders signed a court brief in support of the lawsuit’s second chance in front of the all-Republican court.
Saenz, who calls this Houston law an attack on religious freedom—along with a mess of other liberal state laws—couldn’t be more revved up.
“It is critical that we succeed in this case to defend what’s left of our state’s marriage laws, our religious freedom and taxpayers’ right to not be forced by government to fund illegal same-sex benefits,” wrote Saenz in a fundraising email last week. “We need the Texas Supreme Court to protect Texas from the growing ideological and activist rulings by the federal judiciary,”
Which gets to the meat of this fight. The Houston lawsuit is more than just an attack on gay rights. At the core of the argument is a blatant rejection of two major U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Saenz and Woodfill ask the court to clarify what rights same-sex couples have under 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges—the SCOTUS case that made gay marriage a fundamental right—and prove that spousal benefits are included. They added that this request has become “even more urgent” since they first filed the suit in May, due to the Supreme Court’s Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling, which blocked Texas’ restrictive anti-abortion law.
“[Whole Woman’s Health] held that a Texas law that protects the safety of abortion patients must give way to a court-created right to abortion that cannot be found anywhere in the Constitution,” the lawsuit reads. Thus, the men totally discard a decision made by the highest court in the country.
And then: “It is clear that the current Supreme Court will continue to use its power to advance the ideology of the sexual revolution until there is a change of membership.”
All of this, remember, is wholeheartedly backed by 50 state lawmakers—they call the Supreme Court’s recent work “federal tyranny” in their brief. It’s a dangerous idea: state officials snubbing Supreme Court rulings until they get their way.
“Obergefell did not...create a fundamental right to engage in homosexual activity or make homosexuals a protected class,” the brief reads, hinting at potential lawsuits to come. “Creation of a new right to a new type of marriage does not automatically create a panoply of other fundamental rights.”
Legal experts say it's unlikely the Texas Supreme Court will change their mind and hear the lawsuit this time around. But that doesn’t mean it’ll reach any kind of resolution.
“The people have already spoken on the issue through the Texas Legislature,” the brief concludes. “It would be a detriment to their constituents if this elected Court were to remain silent.”
Dozens of Texas lawmakers still won’t accept that they lost the battle against gay marriage— and say the U.S. Supreme Court’s “sexual revolution” is to blame.