Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (right), who was indicted recently on three felony charges, is facing a new round of legal woes over his opposition to same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered Paxton to appear in court to answer to allegations of contempt over the state’s refusal to issue an accurate death certificate to a gay man whose husband died in January.
U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia also ordered the state to immediately issue a death certificate to John Stone-Hoskins (above, right) listing him as the husband of James Stone (above, left), who died in January after they married in New Mexico last year.
The Texas Observer reports:
Garcia handed down the order just hours after Daniel McNeel Lane Jr. (right, below), an attorney for Stone-Hoskins, filed a motion seeking to hold Paxton and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, in contempt. The motion alleged that Paxton and Cole’s refusal to issue the death certificate violated Garcia’s previous order enjoining state officials from enforcing Texas’ same-sex marriage ban, which he issued in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. …
“This is an effort to get political gain by persecuting gays and lesbians in the state of Texas,” Lane told the Observer shortly after filing the motion. “There’s just no other way to read what they’re doing.”
Stone-Hoskins, the widower, has been diagnosed with cancer, and doctors say he has an estimated 45-60 days to live. Thanks to Wednesday’s ruling, he’ll likely receive an accurate death certificate for his husband before he dies. The couple had been together 10 years.
More from WFAA-TV:
“I’ve been a lawyer for 26 years now. I’ve never seen a judge act this quickly,” said Neel Lane of Akin & Gump LLP. …
“This is about every same-sex couple that’s going through — or could go through — what I am right now,” Hoskins explained. …
“To have it happen so quickly… to have relief granted so quickly… it just confirmed the injustice of the position the state had taken,” Lane said. …
“I think this is a big signal to state officials that they need to step into line,” Lane said.
According to the Austin Stateman, Paxton’s office is arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges — and Judge Garcia’s subsequent order enjoining Texas officials from enforcing the state’s marriage ban — don’t necessarily apply to death certificates retroactively:
Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for Paxton’s office, said that whether the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling is retroactive “is a complex legal question that must be resolved in a separate case, and is a separate issue from what was addressed” in Garcia’s July order, which centered on the right to marry.
Lane, however, claims that anyone who was legal married in another state and whose spouse subsequently died is now eligible for an updated Texas death certificate. But for Stone-Hoskins, obtaining an accurate death certificate isn’t just a symbolic victory. From the Observer:
“After the Supreme Court decision came down, I should have inherited his estate,” Stone-Hoskins said. “Instead, not only is James’ estate — because he left no will before he died — at issue, but should I pass, I can’t even plan my own estate at this time.”
It’s unclear what sanctions Paxton may face if he’s held in contempt, although the state will almost certainly be on the hook for Stone-Hoskins’ attorney’s fees:
“The court can consider at its discretion any factors in awarding an award of contempt, but really what we want to do, at least from my perspective, is to pave the way for others so they don’t have to go to court,” Lane said.
Watch WFAA’s report below.