Same-sex benefits challenge returns to Texas trial court

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AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Supreme Court unanimously decided Friday that government benefits to spouses in same-sex marriages are not inherent.

The suit will now go back to the lower courts to decide.

RELATED | Same-Sex Spousal Benefits Argued in Texas Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015 establishing the right to same-sex marriage did not decide all marriage-related matters, leaving room for "reach and ramifications," the all-Republican Texas court said.

The declaration came about over then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s 2013 decision to grant benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees who had married in other states. It's part of a lawsuit stirred by Texas Republicans, challenging the city of Houston's spousal benefits policies.

The U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across the country in 2015 in the case known as the "Obergefell Decision." But both sides of this case read that decision much differently.

"What we are seeing right now is a trend in Texas and in other states to try and place roadblocks in front of same-sex couples," said Chuck Smith of Equality Texas. "They want them to basically start over and hear the case again."

The attorney arguing against a Houston policy agrees the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling gave same-sex couples the right to marry but says that doesn’t mean they also have the right to benefits.

"It's clear to us that the Texas law on this issue--which does not allow tax dollars to be used for same-sex benefits--is still the law," said Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values Action.

But the defendants say it's not about a fundamental right to benefits. It's simply about all marriages being treated equally under the law.

"If you extend spousal benefits to opposite sex couples, then under Obergefell, you also have to extend them to same-sex," said Douglas Alexander, attorney for the defense.

Still, conservatives against extending same sex benefits say it's also about a person's right not to support same-sex marriage. Supporters of gay marriage have vowed to appeal such a ruling to the federal courts.

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