Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton must appear in federal court Aug. 12 to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt over the state’s refusal to issue an accurate death certificate to a gay man whose husband passed away in January.
U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia on Wednesday ordered state officials to immediately issue a death certificate to John Stone-Hoskins of Conroe that identifies him as the husband of James Stone, who died in January after the couple married in New Mexico last year.
Garcia handed down the order just hours after Daniel McNeel Lane Jr., 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.
On Wednesday, Garcia granted Stone-Hoskins’ motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit challenging the marriage ban, and ordered Cole and Paxton to appear in court to respond to the contempt allegation.
“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.
Any gay or lesbian widower or widow whose spouse died after they legally married in another state is entitled to an updated Texas death certificate, he added.
Ken Upton Jr., senior counsel for Lambda Legal, has said he plans to file a lawsuit against the state seeking accurate birth certificates for the adopted children of same-sex couples. However, Upton said Wednesday he would first see how the death certificate case plays out.
Read Stone-Hoskins’ motion for contempt and Garcia’s order below.