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Texas Supreme Court Throws Out Ruling that Favored Same-Sex Marriage Benefits

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a lower court ruling that said spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized same-sex marriage benefits. The state’s highest civil court unanimously ordered a trial court to reconsider the case. 

As part of a case challenging Houston’s benefits policy, the Supreme Court suggested a landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage does not fully address the right to marriage benefits. Justice Jeffrey Boyd, writing on behalf of the court in a 24-page opinion, said there’s still room for state courts to explore the “reach and ramifications” of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges

“We agree with the Mayor [of Houston] that any effort to resolve whether and the extent to which the Constitution requires states or cities to provide tax-funded benefits to same-sex couples without considering Obergefell would simply be erroneous,” Boyd wrote.“On the other hand, we agree… that the Supreme Court did not address and resolve that specific issue in Obergefell.” 

The case was part of Texas Republicans’ ongoing fight against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and led to the enactment of benefits policies for married same-sex couples. 

At the center of the Houston case is whether that ruling — known as Obergefell v. Hodges — requires city and other governmental agencies to extend those taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees. Following that ruling, public employers in Texas, including state agencies and public universities — quickly extended such benefits.  

But in an attempt to re-litigate the high court’s decision, two taxpayers — represented by same-sex marriage opponents — are suing Houston over its policy. 

They’ve argued 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 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.  

During a March hearing, Douglas Alexander, the lawyer who defended Houston’s benefits policy, told the court that the case was moot under Obergefell’s guarantee that all marriages be equally regarded. 

Jonathan Mitchell, the former solicitor general for the state and the lawyer representing opponents of the Houston policy, argued that marriage benefits are not a fundamental right and that Obergefell did not resolve questions surrounding such policies. 

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with that argument, noting that Obergefell requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages in the same manner as 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.” 

The Texas Supreme Court also made note of two moves by the U.S. Supreme Court this week as proof that courts are still weighing Obergefell’s impact. 

The high court on Monday reversed a ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that kept married same-sex couples from being treated the same as opposite-sex couples on their children’s birth certificates. In that case, the court said it reversed the ruling because the “differential treatment infringes Obergefell’s commitment to provide same-sex couples ‘the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.'” The court also decided they would take up a case involving whether a Colorado baker can legally refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because of religious objections. 

The decision by the Texas Supreme Court to take up the case was regarded as an unusual move because it had previously declined to take it up last year. That allowed the lower court decision to stand. 

But the state’s highest civil court reversed course in January after receiving an outpouring of letters opposing the decision. They also faced pressure from Texas GOP leadership — spearheaded by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who asked the court to clarify that Obergefell does not include a “command” to public employers regarding employee benefits. 

That request to the court came more than a year after state agencies moved to extend benefits to spouses of married gay and lesbian employees just days after the high court’s ruling. As of Aug. 31, 584 same-sex spouses had enrolled in insurance plans — including health, dental or life insurance — subsidized by the state, according to a spokeswoman for the Employees Retirement System, which oversees benefits for state employees. 

Attorneys challenging the same-sex marriage benefits policy deferred to Texas Values — a conservative group that opposes same-sex marriage — for comment on Friday’s ruling.  

“Today’s unanimous ruling from the state supreme court is a huge win for Houston taxpayers and for those who support the state’s marriage laws,” Jonathan Saenz, the group’s president, said in a statement. 

Paxton also applauded the court’s ruling, saying he was “extremely pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that Texas law is still important when it comes to marriage.” 

LGBT advocates on Friday were enraged by the Texas court’s ruling. Equality Texas called it “patently indefensible,” and Lambda Legal said it “defies all logic and reason.” 

“The Texas Supreme Court’s decision this morning is a warning shot to all LGBTQ Americans that the war on marriage equality is ever-evolving, and anti-LGBTQ activists will do anything possible to discriminate against our families,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. 

Advocates are likely to push for the case to be appealed to federal courts. A spokesman for Houston mayor Sylvester Turner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the possibility of an appeal.  

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

[gdlr_space height=”20px”]
[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: Couples embrace at the conclusion of the “Big Gay Wedding” ceremony on the south lawn of the Texas Capitol on July 4 after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June. / photo credit: Tamir Kalifa / The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

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

Gay Couple Attacked in Dowtown Austin

Austin Police confirmed that all four suspects in the January 19 attack against Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry are now in custody.

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Attack victims Spencer Deehring (left) and Tristan Perry (right). Attack suspects Frank Macias (center top left), Quinn O'Connor (center top right), Miguel Macias (center bottom left), and Kolby Monell (center bottom right).

A gay couple in Austin were hospitalized after being attacked and beaten unconscious by a group of five men in downtown Austin early Saturday morning. The men say they were targeted because of their sexual orientation telling KXAN that they believe their attackers were set off by seeing the couple holding hands.

Night Out

Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry were out Friday night with a group of friends, celebrating a friend’s birthday, stopping by several downtown bars. The couple told KXAN that they only had a couple drinks early in the night. Since they had drove downtown, they wanted to be sober when the night ended.

The Attack

The men say they left Rain on 4th at approximately 2:20 AM Saturday morning and were walking to their car, hand-in-hand, when a man passed them and directed a homophobic slur at the couple. Deehring responded by saying, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” That was when the man called out to four other people, who had been out of sight, and motioned for them to come over.

The group of attackers began to follow Deehring and Perry, verbally assaulting the couple with expletives as they continued the walk to their car. “The last thing I said to one of the guys before they attacked both of us was like, ‘I don’t have anything more to say to you guys, we’re just going home, leave us alone’,” Deehring told KXAN.

It was then that one of the attackers punched Perry in the face, breaking his nose. As he dropped to his knees, two of the other assailants stepped up and continued to attack Perry, hitting and kicking him until he was unconscious, including a kick to the back of the head by one of the attackers.

“The last blow he took was an extremely long kick to the back of his head, so, at that point, I thought he was dead. I thought that that kick alone had killed him and so, when he was just lying there, my first instinct kicked in to kind of just charge at the guy that kicked him because I wanted to create some kind of diversion,” Deehring told Fox 7.

Deehring immediately tried to tackle the men attacking Perry. “That was my first reaction, was to stop them from kicking him because he couldn’t receive one more blow to the head or he may well have been dead,” he told KXAN. He himself was knocked unconscious by the attackers.

A bystander who witnessed the attack called 911 and waited with the couple until police and EMS arrived, which Deehring estimated took 20 minutes. He noted that had it not been for the bystander, the attack may have continued and their injuries more severe.

Their Injuries

The couple was transported to Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas at Austin where they were treated and hospitalized for their injuries. Both men have since been released.

Last night I was a victim of a brutal hate crime. I was beaten and called a “faggot” as well as numerous other terms…

Posted by Spencer Deehring on Saturday, January 19, 2019

Deehring’s injuries included a concussion, lacerations on his forehead, swelling to his mouth and jaw, and bruising from blows to the back of his head and neck.

The focus of the initial assault, Perry sustained more extensive injuries, including a concussion, lacerations to the back of his head, a broken nose, busted lip, chipped teeth and suffered from swelling in his face, pain in his neck and back and needed stitches over his eye. He also reported some memory loss from the head injuries he sustained. He was readmitted to the hospital Sunday for persistent bleeding, but has since been released.

last night my boyfriend and i went out for a drink with some of his friends, and unfortunately when he and i were…

Posted by Tristan Perry on Saturday, January 19, 2019

Details

The original account to KXAN had the couple leaving Rain on 4th at approximately 2:45 AM and the following attack occuring near 7th and Red River streets. In their interview with FOX 7, the couple said they left Rain on 4th at approximately 2:20 AM and the attack happened near 4th and Guadalupe streets.

According to the Austin Police Department, the incident occured at 3rd Street and Congress Avenue just before 2:30 AM and the bystander’s 911 call was pinged from an address near West 4th Street. Deehring said police told him his misremembering the location of the attack was likely a result of the concussion he sustained from head trauma during the attack. Rain on 4th confirmed the couple exited that bar at 2:18 AM.

A request to the Austin Police Department for a copy of the police report from the night of the attack was denied by the department. “The requested information pertains to ongoing criminal investigation. The detective assigned to this investigation has advised that the release of the requested information would interfere with this ongoing investigation,” said the City of Austin’s Law Department in a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s office asking for a decision from the Attorney General as to whether this information is within an exception to public disclosure. “Accordingly, it is the department’s position that the release of information pertaining to this investigation would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime, and the department seeks to withhold the information represented by the enclosed records under Section 552(a)(1).”

The couple are encouraging others to be cautious when they’re out and to not travel alone, and that they plan to keep going out and being affectionate in public.”Spread love, end all this hatred, end all this closed-mindedness always watch your surroundings, always be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk alone,” Perry told KXAN, with Deehring adding, “Be aware of your surroundings, but don’t change who you are as a person, don’t ever change who you are as a person and don’t be afraid to go out there and explore the world, just as you are. We’re gonna do that too.”

The couple have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help cover medical expenses.

Search for the Attackers

The couple hope the police will find and prosecute the attackers. According to Deehring, police have surveillance video from the night of the attack showing them walking down 3rd Street and Congress Avenue. Police are using the video to track down the assailants involved in the attack.

“They have so many people working on this. Multiple supervisors, multiple people checking cameras,” Deehring told KXAN. “It’s good to hear APD is doing everything they can and are taking it very seriously.”

They are also asking that the bystander who called 911 to come forward to participate in the investigation

Rewards

The owners of Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s are offering a $5,000 reward for any new information which leads to an arrest in connection with the attack.

The Owners of Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s are offering a $5,000 reward for any new information which leads to an arrest in connection with the Hate-Crime attack against Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry on the early morning of Saturday, January 19th in downtown Austin.

For too long gay-bashings have threatened our community. Historically and still to this day establishments like ours have provided sanctuary and security from these incidents. At Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s we strive daily to provide a safe and tolerant environment for our community, and our actions do not stop at our doors. We will not stand by when our customers and community members are brutally assaulted simply for expressing their love.

Rain on 4th has been in contact with Mayor Adler’s office as well as Police Chief Manley and Assistant Chief Newsom. We will continue to coordinate resources and actions to help ensure this crime is fully investigated and prosecuted. We are also working together on community safety measures to ensure we send a strong message that threats in the warehouse district will not be ignored.

Anyone having information concerning the crime please call APD at 512-974-9207 or contact Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS. You may remain anonymous.

Additionally, the Shefman Law Group’s Cyclistlaw.com and R-Events are each offering an additional $2,500 reward and the Austin Playhouse‘s production of “Paradise” is offering an addition $1,000 reward. The combined reward stands at $11,000.

Anyone having information concerning the crime please call APD at 512-974-9207 or contact Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS. You may remain anonymous.

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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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28feb7:00 PM9:00 PMDrag BingoHost by Vegas Van Cartier7:00 PM - 9:00 PM BT2 AustinCategories:DragAges:21+

28feb7:30 PM10:00 PMHEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH7:30 PM - 10:00 PM The Topfer Theatre at ZACHCategories:TheatreAges:18+

28feb01marTexas Hold'em TournamentHosted by Wild West Casino Games8:30 PM - (march 1) 12:00 AM BT2 AustinCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

28feb01marDown & Dirty Thursday ft. DJ ProtégéAll-Male Amateur StripOff ft. Bobby Cook & Sabel Scities10:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Rain on 4thCategories:NightlifeAges:18+

28feb01marCountry Nightft. DJ Michael Bond10:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Oilcan Harry'sCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

28feb01marDivas on 4thHosted by Nadine Hughes11:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Sellers UndergroundCategories:Drag,NightlifeAges:21+

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