The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples do not have the right to spousal benefits for married gay couples.
The state court, which is dominated by Republican appointees and notoriously hostile to LGBT rights, made the ruling today.
It followed the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling, which had found that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and enjoy equal protection under the law.
However, the Texas justices held that it is up to the state to define the “reach and ramifications” of the ruling.
The court was ruling on a legal challenge over the city of Houston’s decision to grant benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees.
The Texas judges agreed with their challenge, saying: “The Supreme Court held in Obergefell that the Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages to the same extent that they license and recognize opposite-sex marriages, but it did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons, and it did not hold that the Texas [Defense of Marriage Acts, banning same-sex marriage] are unconstitutional. “
The ruling also appeared to angle for the issue of same-sex marriage to be revisited at the US Supreme Court level, which may lose its pro-LGBT majority if more conservatives are appointed by President Trump.
The justice wrote: “Obergefell is not the end… already, the Supreme Court has taken one opportunity to address Obergefell’s impact on
an issue it did not address in Obergefell, and there will undoubtedly be others.
“[The petitioners], 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.”
The decision could begin the process to undercut marriage equality by erasing spousal benefits, including health care benefits, for legally married same-sex couples in the state of Texas.
LGBT advocates plan to appeal against the ruling.
Equality Texas said: “The justices’ holding that Obergefell v. Hodges does not require equal treatment under the law for LGBT married couples is patently indefensible.
“This is a sad day for Texas as our highest court joins the ranks of Mississippi and Arkansas in refusing to abide by the Constitution’s mandate to recognize the dignity and equality of all persons.
“Equality Texas is hopeful that the City of Houston will appeal this horrendous decision to the United States Supreme Court in order to ensure equality for the marriages of all Texans.
“By punting the case back to the lower court, the Texas Supreme Court undermines the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell marriage equality decision.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that marriage equality is settled law and requires states to treat married same-sex couples equally in every area of the law.
“Extreme partisan politics has no place at the Texas Supreme Court and this decision is sure to damage the Texas brand and further tarnish the reputation of this state as being unwelcome and hostile to LGBTQ Texans.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD said: “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, and anti-LGBTQ activists will do anything possible to discriminate against our families.
“In the age of the Trump Administration, which continues to systematically erase LGBTQ Americans from the fabric of this nation, the LGBTQ community and our allies must remain visible and push back harder than ever against attacks on acceptance.”