June 30, 2017 / 4:26 PM / 2 years ago

Top Texas court sides against same-sex couple marriage benefits

AUSTIN, Texas, June 30 (Reuters) - The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that same-sex couples are not necessarily entitled to government-dispensed spousal benefits, dealing a blow to backers of marriage equality, who have vowed to appeal.

The Republican-dominated court said the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal nationwide, did not resolve issues such as payments of municipal employees’ spousal benefits.

“The Supreme Court held in Obergefell that the Constitution requires states to license and recognize same-sex marriages to the same extent that they license and recognize opposite-sex marriages,” the Texas court wrote in its opinion, “but it did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.”

In 2013, two Houston taxpayers, backed by Texas Republican leaders, sued the city after then-Mayor Annise Parker gave municipal spousal benefits to same-sex couples married in places where same-sex marriages were recognized.

At the time, Texas had a constitutional amendment that barred same-sex marriage. That law was later struck down.

The plaintiffs, Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, a pastor and an accountant, argued that the top U.S. court’s decision on same-sex marriage was poorly reasoned and that same-sex couples were not entitled to spousal employment benefits.

Rights groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people contended the plaintiffs were trying to erode the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on an already settled matter.

“This absurd contortion of the Obergefell ruling defies all logic and reason,” said Kenneth Upton, senior counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, an LGBT rights legal group.

“We will take steps to protect these families.”

LGBT rights groups have said they intended to appeal if the Texas court’s decision went against them.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Jonathan Mitchell, declined to comment on the decision. (Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Taylor Harris)

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