Texas AG faces contempt hearing over gay marriage rights

AP News
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Posted: Aug 05, 2015 6:49 PM

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton must explain why he should not be held in contempt for enforcing state laws that impede gay marriage rights after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision, a federal judge ordered Wednesday.

Judge Orlando Garcia ordered Paxton to appear in a San Antonio federal court next Wednesday after a Houston gay man was not provided an amended death certificate for his husband. The court order comes just two days after Paxton was booked on securities fraud charges.

The hearing is to determine whether Paxton and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, should be held in contempt after potentially disobeying a July 7 court order barring the state from enforcing any laws "that prohibit or fail to recognize same-sex marriage," according to the court order.

Garcia further ordered that state officials must provide an amended death certificate to John Stone-Hoskins of Conroe, who had filed court papers earlier Wednesday asking the judge to force Texas officials to place his name on the certificate for his husband, James Stone-Hoskins, who died in January. The two were married last year in New Mexico.

He had argued that the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision on gay marriage in June means his name should be placed on his spouse's death certificate. The ruling required all states to recognize same-sex marriages, even those performed elsewhere, and overturned any legal bans.

The certificate listed James Stone-Hoskins as single and referred to his husband as a "significant other." In court papers John Stone-Hoskins says he's facing a terminal illness and wants to settle his estate and have state records recognize his marriage. He added during a news conference Wednesday that he should be able to inherit his spouse's estate but cannot because the certificate doesn't list him as the surviving spouse. Complicating matters was that his husband didn't have a will when he died, according to court papers.

"This is about every same sex couple that's going through or could go through what I'm going through now," he said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has said it's reviewing the Supreme Court ruling to determine if changes must be made to death certificate documents.

"This involves taking a broad look at a variety of forms and vital records," agency spokeswoman Carrie Williams said in a statement provided earlier to WFAA-TV in Dallas. "Our attorneys are working with the AG's office on the analysis. We hope to finish the analysis in the coming weeks. Once we complete that analysis, we would make any necessary changes as soon as possible."

State Health Services maintains vital records that include death certificates.

Stone-Hoskins, 37, is arguing in court that he's being denied due process and equal protection under the law.

His attorney, Neel Lane, said Wednesday that the portion of the death certificate identifying a spouse was left blank, arguing, "That blank spot erases everything that represents their marriage together."

He added, "Texas denied the dignity and respect that James and John were entitled to by virtue of their marriage."