Thursday, March 2, 2017

Texas is still trying to outlaw marriage equality

Greetings from Texas
On Wednesday the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in a case involving the City of Houston. Religious conservatives and Republicans (which are pretty much the same thing) are hoping that this case provides a means of chipping away at the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that provided nationwide marriage equality.

Houston, which is the country's fourth largest city, was sued in 2013 by a group of conservative Christian pastors. The pastors claimed that the city's plan to offer marital benefits to same-sex spouses violated the Texas constitution. They lost at trial and the appeals court refused to hear the matter.

However, in January the Texas Supreme Court under tremendous pressure from Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (as well as the usual assortment of Christianist whack jobs and the GOPers who pander to them) agreed to hear the case. Wednesday they heard nearly an hour of oral arguments and are expected to hand down a decision by the end of June.

The Court has been inundated with amicus briefs from religious groups hoping to limit the effect of Obergefell in its application to the states. The petitioners are represented by former Texas solicitor general, Jonathan Mitchell. He claims that the Supreme Court ruling doesn't require governmental entities to offer taxpayer-funded benefits to employees in same-sex marriages. He is probably correct. However, Houston opted to provide the benefit. Texas is a Home Rule state and Houston should have the ability to do so. I do not see how the Court could rule otherwise.

Mitchell is an accomplished attorney who is currently a visiting professor of law at Stanford. It has been reported that the justices interrupted Mitchell less than two minutes into his argument. The justices peppered Mitchell with questions relating to jurisdiction noting that this case is about a municipal decision to offer a benefit and that the issue of marriage was settled by the Court. Mitchell claimed that a Supreme Court decision is less weighty than the text of the Constitution.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has issued a statement:
March 1, 2017 -- Today, before the Texas Supreme Court, the City of Houston is defending its right to provide benefits to married employees, including those in same-sex marriages. The City, with the support of numerous distinguished “friends of the court,” is relying on Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that granted same-sex couples not only a fundamental right to marry, but also to enjoy the whole constellation of rights that come with marriage. The City contends that the decision in Obergefell left no remaining issues to be decided by any state supreme court or any other state official.  The City also arguing that the petitioners have no standing to challenge the City’s actions.

The City is confident that the Texas Supreme Court will follow its practice of requiring strict compliance with decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and rule in the City’s favor.
The religious conservatives behind this case have stated that they hope it goes to the United States Supreme Court. I do not see how the US Supreme Court would have subject matter jurisdiction. There doesn't seem to be a federal question. The Christians are hell-bent on finding a way to challenge Obergefell.

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