The highest Republican elected officials in Texas have now officially joined the appalling campaign to use state and local governments to discriminate against legally married same-sex couples. Let’s be clear: this is nothing more than a shameful effort to validate the hatred of religious-righters for LGBT Texans and their families.
Today Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton submitted a brief calling on the Texas Supreme Court to allow a lawsuit to move forward challenging the city of Houston’s policy granting employee benefits for married same-sex couples. The Austin American-Statesman quotes from the friend-of-the-court brief:
“This court should take this opportunity to remind the lower courts that all disputes involving the right to same-sex marriage have not been resolved.”
This argument will thrill religious-right pressure groups that want Texas courts to undermine the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling from June 2015. In that case, Obergefell v. Hodges, the nation’s highest court ruled that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.
Religious-righters specifically want to force state and local governments to bar the same-sex spouses of public employees from receiving the same benefits (such as health insurance) that opposite-sex spouses of public employees get.
Here’s the sneering way the rabidly anti-LGBT group Texas Values put it in a fundraising email to religious-right activists:
“There is no ‘fundamental right’ by same-sex couples to receive tax-payer funded benefits or subsidies.”
The email goes on:
“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. Further, we need the Texas Supreme Court to protect Texas from the growing ideological and activist rulings by the federal judiciary.”
Late this past summer the Texas Supreme Court refused to take up the case challenging public employee benefits for same-sex spouses. But religious-right pressure groups like Texas Values — and now the state’s governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general — are demanding that the court reconsider its decision.
It seems doubtful that the state court would change its mind, even if all of the justices are Republicans. But religious-righters are threatening to run election campaigns against any justices who don’t.
In any case, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear last year that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law extends to the right of same-sex couples to marry. That guarantee would mean little if government were permitted to treat married same-sex couples differently than it does married opposite-sex couples. In fact, the U.S. justices were clear in the Obergefell decision (emphasis added):
The Constitution … does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.
Should state and local governments deny benefits to the African-American spouses of white public employees? Should they be able treat Christian married couples differently than Jewish or Muslim married couples?
The answer clearly must be no. And state governments may not treat same-sex married couples differently either.