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After GOP appeal, Texas Supreme Court agrees to take up same-sex marriage case

The Texas Supreme Court reversed course and agreed to take up a case involving benefits for married same-sex couples after Republican leaders urged the court to reconsider its earlier decision to let a lower court decision stand.

Couples embrace at the conclusion of the "Big Gay Wedding" ceremony on the south lawn of the Texas Capitol on July 4 after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June.

*Correction appended

After pressure from Texas GOP leadership, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court on Friday reversed course and agreed to take up a same-sex marriage case.

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015, the state’s highest civil court will reconsider a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. The court had previously declined to take up the case with only one justice dissenting, letting stand a lower court decision that upheld benefits for same-sex couples.

But Texas Republicans looking to narrow the scope of the landmark ruling legalizing same-same marriage urged the Texas court to reconsider. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in October filed an amicus brief with the court asking them to reconsider the case.

Oral arguments have been set for March 1.

In asking the Texas Supreme Court to reopen the Houston case, state’s leaders also urged the court to clarify that the case that legalized same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, does not “bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage.”

They argued that Obergefell does not include a “command” that public employers “take steps beyond recognizing same-sex marriage — steps like subsidizing same-sex marriages (through the allocation of employee benefits) on the same terms as traditional marriages.”

State leaders’ petition came more than a year after state agencies extended benefits to spouses of married gay and lesbian employees following the high court’s ruling — a move lawyers for Houston have pointed to in defending their policy. They’ve also argued that conservatives have no legal avenue to pursue in the case because the city’s policy is protected by the Obergefell ruling.

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that marriages between couples of the same sex cannot be prohibited by states, overriding Texas’ long-standing ban on same-sex marriage. And almost a month after the ruling, Paxton quietly conceded a case against the federal government over medical leave benefits for certain same-sex couples.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas Republicans asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider a case about benefits in what appears to be an attempt to narrow the scope of the landmark ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
  • This year, Texas Republicans are focused on the so-called bathroom bill, limiting transgender residents’ access to some bathrooms. Here’s the annotated bill text to explain in plain English how the bill would impact communities across Texas.

Correction: This story initially gave an incorrect description of the court's previous decision not to take up the case. That decision was made with only one justice dissenting.

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Courts Criminal justice Politics Dan Patrick Gay marriage Greg Abbott Ken Paxton Texas Supreme Court