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Texas Supreme Court sides with Republicans in attack on same-sex marriage

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In a setback for same-sex couples, the Texas Supreme Court on Friday threw out a lower court ruling that favored government-subsidized same-sex marriage benefits and ordered a trial court to reconsider the case.

The case was part of Texas Republicans’ ongoing fight against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and led to the enactment of benefits policies for married same-sex couples.

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At the center of the Houston case is whether that ruling — known as Obergefell v. Hodges — requires city and other governmental agencies to extend those taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees. Following that ruling, public employers in Texas, including state agencies and public universities — quickly extended such benefits.

But in an attempt to re-litigate the high court’s decision, two taxpayers — represented by same-sex marriage opponents — are suing Houston over its policy.

They’ve argued that the interpretation of Obergefell is too broad and that the right to marry does not “entail any particular package of tax benefits, employee fringe benefits or testimonial privileges.” (In a separate case against the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, the Texas attorney general’s office actually argued that marriage is a right that comes with benefits the state is entitled to control.)

Lawyers for the city of Houston argued, in part, that opponents are without a legal avenue to even pursue their claims because the city’s policy is protected under Obergefell, which they pointed out explicitly addressed “marriage-related benefits.

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.

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Jonathan Mitchell, the former solicitor general for the state and the lawyer representing opponents of the Houston policy, argued that marriage benefits are not a fundamental right and that Obergefell did not resolve questions surrounding such policies..

But throughout the hearing, the justices instead focused on jurisdiction and standing.

The decision by the Texas Supreme Court to take up the case was regarded as an unusual move because it had previously declined to take it up last year. That allowed a lower court decision, which upheld benefits for same-sex couples, to stand.

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But the state’s highest civil court reversed course in January after receiving an outpouring of letters opposing the decision. They also faced pressure from Texas GOP leadership — spearheaded by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who asked the court to clarify that Obergefell does not include a “command” to public employers regarding employee benefits.

That request to the court came more than a year after state agencies moved to extend benefits to spouses of married gay and lesbian employees just days after the high court’s ruling. As of Aug. 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.

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BY ALEXA URA, THE TEXAS TRIBUNE


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President helped ‘increase anti-Trump turnout’ in red-state governor’s races — which could spell disaster for the GOP

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President Donald Trump was once the Republican Party's greatest asset in an election, mobilizing thousands of supporters to rush to the polls. Recently, however, it seems he's now driving anti-Trump votes up so much that it may no longer be worth the Trump trouble.

“So you’ve got to give me a big win, please,” Trump told a Louisiana crowd this week before the GOP candidate lost the governor's race in a red state.

“What Trump did in Louisiana was increase voter participation. While he increased the pro-Trump turnout, he also increased the anti-Trump turnout. That’s kind of the lesson here,” polling analyst Ron Faucheux told The Washington Post in an interview.

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Fire holds off Hong Kong police at campus as democracy protests escalate

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A large fire held off an apparent police advance on the Hong Kong campus where hundreds of pro-democracy protesters were holed up early Monday, hours after officers warned they may use "live rounds" if confronted by deadly weapons in a dangerous escalation of the near six-month crisis engulfing the city.

Protests have rocked the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.

China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.

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Ambassador Sondland was updating Trump officials on progress of ‘push for investigations’ — including Mulvaney

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The Wall Street Journal obtained emails showing that ahead of President Donald Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ambassador Gordon Sondland was updating officials on the strive for investigations.

Chief of staff and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was one of the main points of contact, and he replied to the email saying he would schedule the call with Zelensky.

“I talked to Zelensky just now. He is prepared to receive Potus’ call. Will assure him that he intends to run a fully transparent investigation and will ‘turn over every stone,’” Sondland wrote in an email on July 19.

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