Sunday, July 02, 2017

Texas Supreme Court Keeps Life In Challenge To City's Same-Sex Couple Benefits

In a complex opinion, the Texas Supreme court has given two Houston taxpayer-voters another chance to challenge the legality of the city's extending spousal benefits to same-sex married couples.  At issue in Pidgeon v. Turner, (TX Sup. Ct., June 30, 2017), is the instructions on remand given by a state appeals court in reversing a trial court's temporary injunction against the city's action.  Plaintiffs' suit is based on the contention that Texas' Defense of Marriage Act still has residual effect and that the state appeals court incorrectly indicated to the trial court that the 5th Circuit's DeLeon decision invalidating the state's DOMA is binding on it.  The Texas Supreme Court agreed that the appeals court was incorrect in telling the trial court to proceed "consistent with" DeLeon:
We agree with Pidgeon that De Leon does not bind the trial court in this case and the court of appeals should not have instructed the trial court to conduct further proceedings “consistent with” De Leon. Penrod Drilling, 868 S.W.2d at 296.17 That does not mean, however, that the trial court should not consider De Leon when resolving Pidgeon’s claims. Fifth Circuit decisions, particularly those regarding federal constitutional questions, can certainly be helpful and may be persuasive for Texas trial courts. Moreover, De Leon could potentially affect the relief the trial court might provide on remand, since De Leon has enjoined the Governor from enforcing the Texas DOMAs and the State of Texas is thus providing benefits to state employees’ same-sex spouses. The trial court should certainly proceed on remand “in light of” De Leon, but it is not required to proceed “consistent with” it.
The Texas Supreme Court refused to reach another argument by plaintiffs that they have standing to seek a clawback of payments the city made to same-sex couples before the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell decision.  Plaintiff's cited the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, contending that as taxpayers they have been injured by the payments "because they are devout Christians who have been compelled by the mayor’s unlawful edict to subsidize homosexual relationships that they regard as immoral and sinful."  NPR reports on the decision.