On Friday, Texas’ Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were not guaranteed the same spousal benefits as opposite-sex couples, in what one gay rights activist called “a warning shot to all LGBTQ Americans.”
In a unanimous vote of nine to zero, Texas’ all-Republican high court said that, while the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the “reach and ramifications” of that decision are still up for debate. The ruling came in response to a 2013 lawsuit filed against Houston’s then-mayor Annise Parker, who had extended marriage benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees during her term.
The suit argued that Parker’s decision violated existing Texas laws against same-sex marriage. While the plaintiff’s case was initially supported with an injunction by a Houston judge, the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision prompted a Texas appeals court to lift the injunction. As a result, social conservatives, including Texas’ Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and attorney general, began a coordinated push to take the case to the state’s Republican-run Supreme Court, which had initially resisted hearing the suit.
“[Plaintiff] Pidgeon and [Mayor Parker], like many other litigants throughout the country, must now assist the courts in fully exploring Obergefell’s reach and ramifications, and are entitled to the opportunity to do so,” Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote in the Texascourt’s decision, which sends the case back to district court for further adjudication.
Still, while the Supreme Court’s decision did not explicitly bar same-sex couples from the marriage benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual peers, LGBTQ activists have criticized the decision as part of a larger pattern of attempted discrimination.
“The Texas Supreme Court’s decision this morning is a warning shot to all LGBTQ Americans that the war on marriage equality is ever-evolving,” GLADD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “Anti-LGBTQ activists will do anything possible to discriminate against our families.”
LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal also spoke out against the ruling.
“This decision is political and is an example of why elected judges are bad for LGBT people and bad for judicial independence,” Eric Lesh, the organization’s Fair Courts Project Director, said in a release.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the city of Houston has yet to respond to the court’s decision.