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.
“Our client John Stone-Hoskins is delighted that the State of Texas must now recognize his marriage to his late husband as valid," Lane said. "Like many other gay and lesbian citizens, John and his late husband James were denied the respect and dignity they were entitled to under the Constitution.
John Stone-Hoskins repeatedly asked the state to include him on the death certificate and was denied, he said at a press conference Wednesday announcing the lawsuit. Because his late husband did not have a will, he needs to be named on the certificate to receive spousal death benefits, the law firm said.
Neither the Texas Department of State Health Services nor the attorney general's office responded immediately to requests for comment.
"This is about every same-sex couple that's going through, or could go through, what I'm going through now," John Stone-Hoskins said.