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There’s more to complying with SCOTUS than issuing marriage licenses

Looks like Ken Paxton may get to learn that the hard way.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Texas must recognize the same-sex marriage of a Conroe resident by naming him as the surviving spouse on his late husband’s death certificate.

And U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia also ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, to appear in court Aug. 12 to determine whether they should be held in contempt for refusing to change the death certificate. This is the latest legal challenge for Paxton, who was recently indicted on three felony securities fraud charges.

The judge’s emergency order comes after a lawyer for John Stone-Hoskins, the surviving spouse, sued the state in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, arguing Texas should revise the death certificate. The lawsuit also asked the court to name Texas officials including Paxton and Cole in contempt.

John Stone-Hoskins and James Stone-Hoskins married in New Mexico last year on the 10th anniversary of their first date. James Stone-Hoskins, 32, died in January. But John Stone-Hoskins was not listed on his husband’s death certificate, because at the time, Texas’ ban on same-sex marriages was still in place. Instead, James Stone-Hoskins was listed as single.

The order by Garcia of the District Court for the Western District of Texas compels the state health department to amend the death certificate. This case is particularly urgent, said John Stone-Hoskins’ lawyer, Neel Lane, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, because his 37-year-old client has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

This Observer story from Tuesday gives some background. This story from Wednesday fills in some details.

“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 said he was diagnosed with cancer six weeks after his husband’s death, and doctors estimate he has 45 to 60 days to live. He began requesting an updated death certificate immediately after the high court’s ruling, submitting more than 20 pages of documentation.

State officials initially told him they were still reviewing the request, but this week they said they wouldn’t issue an updated death certificate unless a court ordered them to do so, Lane and Stone-Hoskins said.

“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.”

Paxton’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lane said the state will be on the hook for Stone-Hoskins attorneys’ fees, but he’s unsure whether officials will also be liable for damages.

“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.

Yeah, that whole “you don’t have to obey SCOTUS if your conscience says so but you could pay for it if so” opinion sure is hitting home about now, I’d say. We’ll see if the DSHS complies, and what happens with Paxton and Cole next week. I wonder if it would be wise for Paxton to pack a toothbrush with him when he goes to court. At least he’s already got a mug shot they can use if he needs to be booked. The Statesman has more.

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2 Comments

  1. […] here for the background. Personally, I think Judge Garcia should go ahead and have the hearing. Paxton […]

  2. […] here, here, and here for the background. The Press, which profiles John Stone-haskins, the lead […]