Supreme Court declines to hear Texas same-sex marriage benefits case

A demonstrator outside the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday holds up a rolling pin in support of baker Jack Phillips during arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission also known as the wedding cake case

The Supreme Court has declined to step into a case over a Texas high court ruling that says gay spouses may not be entitled to government-subsidized workplace benefits.

The case that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court for oral arguments on December 5 is a showdown between a gay couple from Colorado and a Denver-area baker who in 2012 cited his Christian faith in refusing to make a cake for their wedding celebration.

The case will now proceed in a Texas state court, which could decide to stop the benefits offered by the fourth most populous US city.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of the advocacy organization GLAAD, predicted that Monday's action will open the door to "an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step". The city appealed the case, which was denied by the US Supreme Court.

Houston City Attorney Ron Lewis said that in the meantime the city's policy to provide the benefits will remain in effect. The decision, the Texas Supreme Court said, does not necessarily require the state of Texas or its cities to extend the same benefits to state or municipal employees in same-sex marriages that it does to other married state and municipal employees.

Jack Phillips the baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple waves outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday
Jack Phillips the baker who refused to make a cake for a gay couple waves outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Washington Post Bill O'Leary

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.

The Houston case began in 2013 when Jack Pidgeon, a local Christian pastor, and Larry Hicks, an accountant, sued the city after Annise Parker, a Democrat who was its first openly gay mayor, gave municipal spousal benefits such as health insurance and life insurance to same-sex married couples. The high court does not usually comment when rejecting an appeal.

Republican leaders - including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton - added their voices to the campaign, telling the nine judges that the case offered an opportunity to limit the impact of the high court's ruling on gay marriage.

The ruling returned the lawsuit to a Houston district court to determine whether the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage ruling applies to spousal benefits provided by Houston. "We're grateful that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed our lawsuit to go forward", Saenz said. The Texas Supreme Court even admitted it only took up the case after receiving "emails, letters and postcards" from individual citizens. 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.

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