Houston Rebuffed by U.S. Supreme Court on Same-Sex Benefits

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court let a challenge go forward to Houston’s practice of providing benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees, leaving intact a Texas Supreme Court decision that calls the policy into question.

The justices on Monday rejected the city’s appeal in a one-line order without comment or published dissent. The order doesn’t force the city to change its policy or preclude the nation’s highest court from taking up the dispute later.

Two Houston residents sued the city, saying it is violating state and local laws, including a state constitutional provision that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Houston contends those state laws must yield to the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

The Texas court said the 2015 gay-marriage ruling "did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons."

The high court’s approach with the Houston case contrasts with its handling of an appeal in June that raised similar issues. In that case, the court moved quickly to say Arkansas had violated the Constitution by making it harder for the female spouses of new mothers to get their name on birth certificates than male spouses. The majority said the gay-marriage ruling "prohibits such disparate treatment."

The U.S. Supreme Court this week is considering gay-marriage rights in a different context. The justices will hear arguments Tuesday in the case of a Colorado baker who says he has a free speech right to refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages.

The Texas case is Turner v. Pidgeon, 17-424.

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