How Texas Tried to Block the Marriage Rights of a Dead Gay Man and His Spouse

Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is facing serious fraud charges, now faces the threat of a contempt of court charge for reportedly refusing to recognize the marriage of a dying gay man and his deceased partner, demonstrating how the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling is still not being adhered to by reluctant states.

John Stone-Hoskins of Conroe married his same-sex partner, James Stone, in New Mexico last year. Stone unfortunately died in January, and Stone-Hoskins was aghast to find that their status as spouses was entirely erased from his husband’s death certificate. Stone-Hoskins sued in order to have that marriage recognized. At the time, Texas defended itself by saying that the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans was in question in the federal courts and that the state amendment banning same-sex marriage was still in effect.

However, after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Obergefell that marriage equality for same-sex couples is a constitutional right, it was hoped this would settle the matter and the certificate would be amended. Unfortunately, this was not the case with AG Paxton telling the Health Services that the order did not apply retroactively. Stone-Hoskins lawyers went to court and, this month, they won, with U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia ordering both Paxton and state health services to amend the certificate. 

Paxton, however, still contends that there is no mandate for retroactively applying a Supreme Court ruling. We’ve previously discussed how current civil rights advances for gay spouses can require the right to retroactively apply current law (for example in terms of certain benefits and spousal rights) in order to fulfill equal treatment and that securing that right can be a lengthy process in the courts.

In an unusually quick move related to the fact that Stone-Hoskins is reportedly also terminally ill, Judge Garcia then issued an order for the AG and the interim director of the Department of State Health Services Kirk Cole to appear before the court in order to explain why they should not be held in contempt, and to issue the license at once.

Fortunately, albeit after far too much legal wrangling, AG Paxton has finally agreed to allow James Stone’s death certificate to be amended and ensure that the couple’s marriage is recognized, and the Texas Health Services has now confirmed that the death certificate has been so changed.

Yet, in the face of a still pressing contempt of court charge, which will be heard this week, Paxton is claiming he shouldn’t be held in contempt because there is “‘no authority’ for a constitutional officer to be held in contempt for providing legal advice to the Texas Department of State Health Services.”

This speaks to how states, while begrudgingly complying with the Supreme Court order, can still impede the full rights and dignity same-sex couples should have access to through marriage. The Supreme Court was clear that all rights and responsibilities regarding marriage should be afforded same-sex couples who are otherwise qualified to marry, and that includes the right to be identified as a spouse on a partner’s death certificate.

While Paxton is correct that the order did not directly address certificates that were produced before the ruling, Stone-Hoskins’ marriage has now been proved lawful regardless of where it occurred. And no matter whatever same-sex marriage ban Texas might still have on its books, they are now unenforceable. As such, Paxton must recognize that when a same-sex couple asks to have that certificate amended, the Health agency must comply because the marriage is, and by virtue of the Supreme Court finding a right to same-sex marriage, was legal in this sense and therefore valid.

This case should have an impact for other people whose partners have died and whose marriages previously were not recognized, but the extent of that will need to be tested in court.

In the meantime, other states have similarly attempted to pay lip service to the Supreme Court order by saying that they won’t obstruct same-sex marriages from taking place but will defend any and all county clerks or probate judges who refuse to issue marriage licenses. What this shows is that there are still states committing civil rights violations against same-sex couples, and it will be some time yet before these problems–very gradually–fade away.

 

UPDATE 08/11/2015: Reports say that the contempt of court hearing has now been cancelled as a result of the state fulfilling its duty and amending Stone’s death certificate. Legal analysts are warning however that if the state attempts to obstruct others having their certificates amended, a similar court case could arise.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

58 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

noted

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Vikram S.
Vikram S2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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R Wheeler
R Wheeler2 years ago

Texas obey the Supreme Court's law!

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Manuela C.
Manuela C2 years ago

Shameful.

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Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

I agree Nicola. But some people feel they are more worthy than others so therefore the person they are more worthy than should get less. WASP privilege has ruled this country for a long time unfortunately

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Nicolai L.
Nicolai L2 years ago

same rights for all.. why is this so hard to get?

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

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Paul C.
Paul C2 years ago

Thee so called evangelical Christians want to be thrown to lions with rubber teeth.

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Carole L.
Carole L2 years ago

Gary S
“I read an article just the other day about a woman customer who demanded that the store she had placed an order from would send no Black delivery men, only white.”

So I wonder if she ever needs a blood transfusion if she'll demand only “white” blood. Some humans can be so despicable.

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