Attorneys present arguments in same-sex spousal benefits case

State Supreme Court justices on Wednesday heard arguments in a case that could affect thousands of Texans.

AUSTIN - Attorneys in Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks vs. Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston presented their oral arguments at the state Supreme Court Wednesday morning.

The case revolves around the interpretation of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling that required states to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

This challenge boils down to two key contentions.

The first - does the Obergefell ruling also apply to associated spousal benefits?

Second - can the Obergefell ruling be retroactively applied?

Houston legalized same-sex spousal benefits for city employees who had married out of state in 2013.

Texas Values challenged that decision, arguing it violated existing law. The Obergefell ruling came down during the challenge.

Texas Values has provided legal assistance on behalf of the petitioners, while Equality Texas has helped the respondents.

Following the hearings, attorneys for both sides shared their takeaway from the initial hearings.

Attorneys for both sides spoke with KVUE following initial hearings.

"So their main argument was that Obergefell was retroactive. It was clear that many of the judges were not comfortable with that position, and it was clear that there was really no basis, and at some point - that became exposed during this oral argument," said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values.

In a follow-up press release, Saenz expanded on his thoughts on the case.

"The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the issue of marriage licenses; there is no ruling from the High Court that taxpayers must subsidize benefits requests from any two persons,” wrote Saenz.

"The Obergefell decision clearly established that marriage, the status of being married, at least for opposite and same-sex couples, is really the trigger to rights. It's a question of the specific right, for example, benefits or a death certificate," responded Kelly Sandill, attorney for the respondents.

In a statement, Progress Texas executive director Ed Espinoza conveyed disappointment over the proceedings.

“Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton are proving, yet again, how ridiculously out of touch they are with real Texas values. Not only are Texas Republicans wasting taxpayer dollars on a backwards crusade against loving couples and families, but they’re idiotically challenging a case settled by the U.S. Supreme Court and overwhelming public support," Espinoza wrote.

Standing outside the court, a small group of same-sex marriage supporters held signs.

Rachel Slaughter, and her wife, Lindsay, explained why they felt their presence was so important.

"My wife has health issues. She has a bleeding disorder. She has chronic osteoarthritis. She needs a knee replacement.  We're hoping to have a baby in the next year, and I want her to be covered by health insurance and have good health insurance while she's pregnant," Rachel explained.

Slaughter works as a professor of nursing, and said her wife Lindsay depends on her health insurance, adding it's unaffordable otherwise.

“I feel that lawmakers that would seek to roll back benefits for same-sex couples or any one person as opposed to any other type of person, I don’t understand the reasoning behind that.  You’re making a discrimination there based on something about that person, when it comes to a benefit that it would not harm you in any way to provide that person.”

While Equality Texas conceded that spousal benefits are not a fundamental right - in arguments, lead attorney Douglas Alexander said that if they're provided for opposite-sex couples, they must be provided for same-sex couples.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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