By Sarah Sloan and Lisa L. Moore
When we heard the news that a challenge to Houston’s benefits policy for city employees, Pidgeon v. Turner, was set for a hearing in the Texas Supreme Court, it brought back troubling memories.
We’re both longtime employees of The University of Texas, where spouses and dependents are covered by our employee-sponsored health insurance. But for many years, our spouses were left out.
That changed thanks to the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, which “requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state.”
In his statement for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote movingly: “It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage.”
We’ve never loved UT more than on June 27, 2015, the day we got the announcement saying that we could register our spouses for insurance benefits on July 1.
Within days, a worry that had shadowed us for years was lifted. Sarah and Carrie have been a couple for fourteen years and got legally married in Washington, D.C., in 2013. Lisa and Madge met in 1997 and were married at Lisa’s parents’ ranch in Canada in 2011. They are the parents of two teenage boys.
Finally, our families were protected.
Madge, who has a chronic illness, has seen a significant improvement in her health over the last year and a half due to having access to regular checkups, prescription coverage, and the ability to consult specialists when needed. Health care access has improved Carrie’s life as well.
We’re well aware of our good fortune. We know that even though the percentage of uninsured Texans dropped 19 percent to 17.1 percent after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, there are still millions of Texas without insurance, largely because of the state’s decision to reject federal funding provided by the ACA.
With the new administration promising to “repeal Obamacare,” we fear going back to the bad old days when pre-existing conditions were excluded from most policies and what was available made going to the doctor so expensive that our wives often skipped it.
The explicit goal in Pidgeon is to overturn Obergefell, according to the attorney bringing the case, Jared Woodfill. It’s hard for us to understand why anyone would want to reach into their neighbors’ lives and make them more precarious.
But morality aside, this case stinks on political, legal and constitutional grounds. The suit has already been rejected by the appeals court once, in September of last year. Following the September decision, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick, and State Attorney General Ken Paxton led a team of powerful state Republicans in putting pressure on the court to reconsiderand hear the case anyway.
At a recent hearing, the justices “seemed nervous” about hearing the case at all. They repeatedly questioned whether Pidgeon and his co-plaintiff even had standing to bring the case.
Jurisdiction is also in question: the Texas Supreme Court has very limited authority over appeals like this one. Of course, these are the very reasons the court denied hearing the case in the first place.
Meanwhile, we await the decision, biting our nails and hoping that the court will not bow to the political pressure to scapegoat our families. This suit is bad for Texans, and it’s bad for Texas.
Sarah Sloan is clinical assistant professor of social work at The University of Texas at Austin. Lisa L. Moore is Archibald A. Hill regents professor in English and American literature at The University of Texas at Austin. This opinion piece appeared in El Paso Times.