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Texas Supreme Court to decide Houston same-sex benefits

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

In an about-face, the Texas Supreme Court has decided to hear a case challenging the city of Houston’s policy of providing benefits to same-sex spouses that are equal to those available to opposite-sex spouses.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage, the city abandoned its policy of only providing spousal benefits to opposite-sex couples. A state appeals court upheld that decision and in September 2016, the state Supreme Court decided not to take the case.

The justices have now decided they want to review it.

Opponents of same-sex spousal benefits argue that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges merely allowed same-sex marriage, but did not necessarily require offering same sex spouses the same benefits that opposite-sex couples enjoy, especially those benefitting children. Plaintiffs want Houston to return to a two-tiered benefits plan.

Supporters of Houston’s benefits policy take the view that the Obergfell decision left no room for second-class benefits for same-sex couples and their families. Some fear that Supreme Court justices facing re-election fights may worry about backlash at the polls for supporting the city’s policy.

Others believe the U.S. Supreme Court settled the same-sex spousal benefits issue for good, and that the lawsuit will cost Houston, both in bad publicity and dollar and cents as it defends against an unnecessary lawsuit.

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