Justices reject Houston appeal over benefits for gay spouses

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The controversy arose in June when the Texas Supreme Court revived a lawsuit that sought to eliminate benefits offered to the same-sex spouses of city of Houston employees, ruling that the right to a marriage license did not automatically entitle same-sex couples to spousal insurance benefits.

Houston appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which today rejected the case without comment, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

The case will now return to the Houston District Court, and the issue of whether the spouses of gays and lesbians must be afforded employment benefits will go through the court system on its own merits, potentially ending up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court once more.

The case will now proceed in a Texas state court.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the advocacy organization GLAAD, predicted that Monday's action will open the door to "an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step".

Houston City Attorney Ron Lewis said that in the meantime the city's policy to provide the benefits will remain in effect. "With all eyes on tomorrow's oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop religious exemptions case, the Supreme Court has just let an alarming ruling by the Texas Supreme Court stand which plainly undercuts the rights of married same-sex couples", she said in a press release.

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The case began in 2013 when Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks sued the city of Houston after the city's mayor gave municipal spousal benefits, health and life insurance, to same-sex married couples.

The Texas court reversed its earlier decision to stay out of the case after coming under pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott and other leading Republicans.

While it's a shame that the U.S. Supreme Court didn't knock down the Texas Supreme Court ruling today, this is hardly over. The ruling found that there's still room for state courts to explore "the reach and ramifications" of marriage-related issues that resulted from the legalization of same-sex marriage.

It was June of this year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against an Arkansas law forbidding same-sex couples from being listed on a child's birth certificate. Such a ruling again could be appealed to the nation's top court.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear another important case involving gay rights, a conservative Christian baker's assertion that the Constitution protected his right to refuse to make a cake for a gay married couple in violation of his religious beliefs.

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