Opinions on gay marriage pour in
Advice abounds as Texas Supreme Court prepares to hear case.
As its judges prepare to hear arguments on efforts to limit the federal ruling allowing gay marriage, the Texas Supreme Court has received a flurry of unsolicited advice from politicians, legal scholars, religious groups and activists.
Even everyday citizens who rarely, if ever, come into contact with the state’s highest civil court have weighed in by email, letter and postcard — drawn to a cause that many thought was decided when the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out gay marriage bans in 2015, ruling that same-sex couples were entitled to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage, however, see an opportunity to limit the impact of that gay marriage ruling with a case that involves a long-running lawsuit seeking to abolish employee benefits the city of Houston provides to married same-sex couples.
Republican leaders, religious groups and social conservatives are pushing the Texas court to find that there is no fundamental right to spousal ben-
efits, even if there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
On the other side, law professors, activists and others argue that the Texas court has no wiggle room because the U.S. Supreme Court stated, clearly and emphatically, that same-sex couples have a right to marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.
Oral arguments on the Houston benefits case will be heard Wednesday morning at the Texas Supreme Court in Austin, with a ruling expected before the end of June.
In preparation for the arguments, the court received a spate of amicus briefs — also known as friend-of-thecourt briefs because the documents offer insight from people interested in, or likely to be affected by, a case that they’re not part of.
There also were perspectives offered through less traditional means, such as a letter from Teresa Chin of Austin, who wrote about her mom’s escape from an abusive husband, the fortuitous arrival of a same-sex spouse and a cancer scare survived because her mother was able to join her spouse’s insurance plan.
“So today I beg of you, please uphold my mom’s rights. Please don’t take her insurance,” Chin wrote, including photos of her mom and stepmom.
The court also received a dozen more traditional amicus briefs, including:
Twenty-six Texas law professors argued that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t merely give same-sex couples the right to acquire a marriage certificate, it required their marriages to be treated as equal to opposite-sex unions. Cutting off benefits to one type of couple would violate the court’s central holding, they said.
“Same-sex couples cannot be treated by government as if they are parties to a ‘second-tier marriage,’” the professors wrote.
Three state Republican leaders — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton — argued that the challenge to Houston’s benefits policy raised different constitutional questions than were decided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which overturned state bans on same-sex marriage.
“This court should take this opportunity to remind the lower courts that all disputes involving the right to same-sex marriage have not been resolved,” they wrote.
The Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism and other types of prejudice, said the challenge to Houston’s spousal benefits is motivated by “religious- and morality-based disapproval of samesex marriage” that provides no legal support for the plaintiffs’ case.
“Religious liberty should operate as a shield, not as a sword to discriminate against members of a disadvantaged minority group,” the AntiDefamation League wrote.
More than 70 Republican lawmakers, conservative leaders and Christian pastors urged the court to “restore the rule of law.”
“This court has the opportunity to diminish federal tyranny and re-establish Texas sovereignty,” they wrote. “While the U.S. Supreme Court did purportedly create a new constitutional right to enter into same-sex marriage, nothing in that ruling compelled the taxpayers of Texas to pay for a vast array of benefits for samesex spouses.”
The two couples who challenged the Texas ban on gay marriage, including Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman of Austin, argued that the lawsuit seeks to return Texas to the days of legal discrimination against same-sex couples.
“Denying benefits to married same-sex couples while providing those benefits to married opposite-sex couples is unconstitutional. It is not possible — in good faith — to construe Obergefell any other way,” they wrote.
Two Christian groups, the Foundation for Moral Law and the Institute for Creation Research, urged the Texas court to go for broke by declaring the federal ruling on gay marriage to be an illegitimate act that need not be followed.
“Needless to say, the 14th Amendment, designed to protect the civil rights of freed slaves, was not intended to create a mock form of marriage to legitimize perversity and in the process trample on the rights of the states to self-government,” the organizations wrote.
Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide (third from right), holds hands with Chuck Smith, Nicole Dimetman, Cleopatra DeLeon, Chad Griffin, Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes at the State Capitol in Austin in June 2015.