Social conservatives hope the case will help them chip away at the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.
The unanimous opinion sends the case challenging the Houston's provision of benefits back to trial court but does not prevent the city from continuing to offer employment benefits to same-sex spouses. Anti-LGBT activists filed suit, claiming Parker violated an amendment in the Texas Constitution that prohibited any action recognizing a same-sex union.
Pavan reversed the lower court without even a hearing not because it was an example of an "open question" left by Obergefell that the Court needed to address. As of August 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.
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples do not have to provide spousal benefits to married gay couples.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said of the ruling that he was "extremely pleased that the Texas Supreme Court recognized that Texas law is still important when it comes to marriage". In addition to reversing the lower court's ruling, the Court sent the case back to the Houston trial court for further litigation and acknowledged that ambiguities in the Obergefell decision would inevitably lead to more such cases for courts to hash out. "Of course, that does not mean that the Texas DOMAs are constitutional or that the City may constitutionally deny benefits to its employees' same-sex spouses", Justice Boyd writes. The couple was having a commitment ceremony with no legal recognition or effect, and the baker did not want to provide a cake, in violation of state anti-discrimination law.
Sure, the law says right now that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry "on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples", but the law isn't always fixed. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives.
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. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning.
Advocates are likely to push for the case to be appealed to federal courts.