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U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Consider Houston Fight Over Same-Sex Marriage Benefits

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will not review a June decision by the Texas Supreme Court that ruled that the legalization of same-sex marriage does not fully address the right to marriage benefits.

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Pamela Holwerds holds up her marriage license following the ceremony that married over 40 same-sex couples on the south lawn of the Texas Capitol in Austin on July 4, 2015.
Pamela Holwerds holds up her marriage license following the ceremony that married over 40 same-sex couples on the south lawn of the Texas Capitol in Austin on July 4, 2015. Photo credit: Tamir Kalifa / Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Denying the city of Houston’s request, the U.S. Supreme Court will not review a June decision by the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled that the landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage does not fully address the right to marriage benefits.

The high court on Monday announced it would not take up the case — which centers on Houston’s policy to provide spouses of gay and lesbian employees the same government-subsidized marriage benefits it provides to opposite-sex spouses — just months after the city of Houston filed its appeal, arguing the state court’s June decision “disregarded” precedent.

In that decision, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that said spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized marriage benefits, and it unanimously ordered a trial court to reconsider the case. 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.

That’s despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015 and noted that now-defunct marriage laws were unequal in denying same-sex couples the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples.

In its decision, the Texas Supreme Court noted that Obergefell requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages just as they do opposite-sex marriages but did not hold that “states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.”

That does not mean Houston can “constitutionally deny benefits to its employees’ same-sex spouses,” the court added, but the issue must now be resolved “in light of Obergefell.”

Following the Obergefell ruling, public employers in Texas, including state agencies and public universities, quickly extended marriage benefits to spouses of gay and lesbian employees.

“Equal recognition of same-sex marriage requires more than a marriage license; it requires equal access to the constellation of benefits that the state has linked to marriage,” Houston attorneys wrote in their brief to the court.

But amid conservative efforts to relitigate that ruling, two Houston taxpayers — represented by same-sex marriage opponents — have moved forward with their case, arguing that the interpretation of Obergefell is too broad and that the right to marry does not “entail any particular package of tax benefits, employee fringe benefits or testimonial privileges.” (In a separate case against the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, the Texas attorney general’s office actually argued that marriage is a right that comes with benefits the state is entitled to control.)

Lawyers for the city of Houston have argued, in part, that opponents are without a legal avenue to even pursue their claims because the city’s policy is protected under Obergefell, which they pointed out explicitly addressed “marriage-related benefits.”

Amid the litigation, Houston has continued to provide benefits to all of its married employees.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Alexa Ura covers demographics, voting rights and politics for The Texas Tribune, with a focus on the state's growing Hispanic population. She previously covered health care for the Tribune, where she started as in intern. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 with a journalism degree.

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Austin

Austin PRIDE Announces Date for 2019 Festival & Parade

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The Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation, the non-profit organization that manages and organizes Austin’s PRIDE celebration, has announced that the 29th annual Austin PRIDE Festival and Parade will take place on SATURDAY, AUGUST 10, 2019. This year’s theme is Boogie Wonderland.

The 2015 Austin Pride Festival at Fiesta Gardens. Photo credit: Chase Martin/therepubliq

The festival will return to Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach in Town Lake Metropolitan Park (a/k/a Fiesta Gardens) from 11 AM – 6 PM and feature entertainment, games and activities, drinks, food, family zone, and 140+ booths featuring local non-profits organizations and businesses. Tickets on the day of the event will be $20 for adults (18+), $10 for youth (7-17 years old), and FREE for children six and under. Discounted advanced tickets will go on sale in the near future at www.austinpride.org.

The Apple contingent in the 2015 Austin Pride Parade
The Apple contingent in the 2015 Austin Pride Parade. Photo credit: Chase Martin/therepubliq

The parade will step off at 8 PM. The route through downtown Austin remains unchanged from previous years; starting at the south gate of the Texas State Capitol Building, heading down Congress Avenue, then turning on 4th Street going through the Warehouse District before ending at Republic Square. The parade is free and open to the public.

The parade and festival are projected to bring in over 400,000 attendees, making it the largest single day event based on attendance in Austin. By comparison, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has 75,000 attendees and South by Southwest has 285,000 attendees.

Registration for booths at the festival and spaces in the parade is now open online at www.austinpride.org/paradeandfestival.

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86th TX Lege

Dan Patrick Dismisses Need for Bathroom Bill in 2019: “It’s been settled and I think we won”

In 2017, Patrick pushed for the controversial measure that would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, but it failed to become law.

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott as he speaks during a press conference at the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / Texas Tribune.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

The “bathroom bill” won’t be back this session, its loudest champion suggested Wednesday morning.

At a Governor’s Mansion press conference on the second day of this year’s legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who last session was the top state leader championing the measure, which would have regulated the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans — suggested there’s no need to bring back the divisive proposal that headlined the last legislative year in 2017, but failed to reach the governor’s desk. 

“When you win the battle, you don’t have to fight the battle again,” Patrick said, sitting beside Gov. Greg Abbott and recently elected Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. “I think it’s been settled, and I think we’ve won.” 

Without citing evidence, Patrick claimed that the school district behavior necessitating the measure has “stopped.” 

“Sometimes a bill doesn’t pass, but you win on the issue,” Patrick said.

The bathroom bill fight kicked off in the wake of an Obama-era policy guideline that directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity. One version of Texas’ “bathroom bill” measure would have required that individuals, including transgender men and women, use the facilities with the gender identity on their birth certificates. Other, similar proposals would have prevented local governments and school districts from enacting or enforcing nondiscrimination ordinances allowing transgender individuals to use the facilities that align with their gender identity.

In the months since the 2017 legislative sessions, Patrick has made similar suggestions that the issue no longer requires the Legislature’s attention. But his answer carried extra weight Wednesday as he and the state’s other top two leaders projected a unified front, promising to tackle bread-and-butter policy reforms like school finance, property tax reform and disaster recovery. Any lawmaker can file a bill, but if the measure doesn’t have support from the state’s top leaders, it’s unlikely to make it very far.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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86th TX Lege

#TXLege86 LGBTQ+ Watch

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The dome from the inside of the Texas State Capitol building
The dome from the inside of the Texas State Capitol building

The 86th Texas Legislature opens this week and, so far, no bathroom bills, but what we do have are several LGBTQ-related bills, all by Democratic lawmakers.

State Senators José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) and José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) filed a bill to revise statutes that referred to “homosexual conduct” as an unacceptable lifestyle and a “criminal offense.”

State Senator José R. Rodríguez and fellow Democrat from El Paso
State Representative Joe Moody, have filed bills to repeal Texas’ anti-sodomy law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, yet still remains on the books.

Whils Senators José R. Rodríguez, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) are calling for “a constitutional amendment to repeal the constitutional provision providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Representatives Jes­sica Far­rar (D-Houston) and Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) along with Senators José R. Rodríguez, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) are all sponsoring bills that would prohibit “certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression” in housing, employment and public accommodations “providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.”

Representative Celia Israel (D-Austin) has filed a bill that would ban “conversion therapy” on children and allow state agencies with regulatory authority over certain mental health providers to take disciplinary action against providers who practice conversion therapy on Texans under 18 years of age

State Senator José R. Rodríguez has filed a bill through would streamline the name and gender change process which will benefit the transgender community.

Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) has filed a bill that would add condoms to the state’s list of items that are tax-exempt.

History made today in Texas as five LGBTQ representatives are sworn in. Congratulations to (left to right) Rep. Celia…

Posted by Equality Texas on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Three new out LGBTQ lawmakers in the Capitol join Celia Israel and Mary González (D-Clint) after their wins in the mid-term elections: Reps. Jessica González (D-Dallas), Julie Johnson (D-Irving) and Erin Zwiener (D-Dripping Springs).

HOUSE BILLS

HB 84
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody (D-El Paso) – District 78
Relating to the repeal of the offense of homosexual conduct.

HB 188
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) – District 123
Relating to the prohibition of housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression and to the enforcement of that prohibition.

HB 244
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) – District 148
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

HB 254
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) – District 123
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

HB 315
Status: Filed – 11/13/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) – District 48
Relating to a sales and use tax exemption for condoms.

HB 517
Status: Filed – 12/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) – District 50
Relating to unprofessional conduct by mental health providers who attempt to change the sexual orientation of a child; providing penalties.

HB 595
Status: Filed – 12/27/2018
Sponsor: Rep. John “Jon” E. Rosenthal (D-Houston) – District 135
Relating to making certain false alarms or reports because of bias or prejudice; increasing a criminal penalty “against a group identified by race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference or by status as a peace officer or judge.”

SENATE BILLS

SB 114
Status: Filed
Sponsor: Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) – District 26
Relating to the repeal of statutes regarding the criminality or unacceptability of homosexual conduct and to the recognition of certain same-sex relationship statuses.

SB 151
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) – District 20
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

SB 152
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Relating to the repeal of the criminal offense of homosexual conduct.

SB 153
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Relating to certain statutory changes to reflect and address same-sex marriages and parenting relationships and to the removal of provisions regarding the criminality or unacceptability of homosexual conduct.

SB 154
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Relating to a change of name and sex for certain persons and the issuance of associated vital records and documentation; authorizing a fee.

SJR 9
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) – District 20
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Proposing a constitutional amendment to repeal the constitutional provision providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

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