Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Texas on Wednesday began issuing death certificates that recognize same-sex marriages, state officials said.
This came the day after a federal judge gave the state an Aug. 24 deadline to revise death and birth certificates to reflect same-sex marriages. In an advisory sent to the judge Wednesday, a deputy general counsel for the Department of State Health Services said birth certificates would be delayed because of "software modifications" that must be made by a third-party vendor to allow married same-sex couples to be listed on their children's birth certificates.
The policy changes stemmed from a ruling last week in which the federal judge ordered state officials to recognize the same-sex marriage of Conroe resident John Stone-Hoskins by naming him as the surviving spouse on the death certificate of his late husband, James. The couple had wed in New Mexico last year, but Stone-Hoskins was not initially named on the death certificate because the state did not recognize same-sex marriages at the time.
In a court order issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said state officials must also assure the court that the health department has granted any pending applications from same-sex couples for amended death and birth certificates before that deadline.
In the court memo, state attorneys wrote that the health department had been working to revise its forms and practices in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that states must recognize same-sex marriages. The department almost immediately modified its marriage application, receiving and filing 963 same-sex marriage licenses since the June 26 ruling. But Stone-Hoskins had been unable to obtain a revised death certificate.
At Garcia's directive, the state reissued the death certificate last week naming Stone-Hoskins as a surviving spouse of his husband, who died in January. Other surviving same-sex spouses can also request an amended death certificate if their spouse died before June 26.
In the meantime, same-sex couples requesting birth certificates can obtain the standard birth certificate listing "mother" and "father" and an amended certificate once the software changes are completed. Couples can also wait for the changes to obtain an original birth certificate listing both parents.
In the state's memo, DSHS made several recommendations on how birth certificates will be issued to same-sex couples. For instance, same-sex couples could obtain a birth certificate listing both parents if they were legally married in Texas or another state at the time one of the mothers gave birth. Same-sex couples adopting a child could both be listed on supplementary birth certificates, which are issued to establish parental rights for adopters.
The attorneys representing the same-sex couples in court must still review those recommendations and the judge will have final approval.
In his deadline order, Garcia said he expected Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who “is in the unique position to ensure the proper implementation of the law across all state agencies” — to oversee the policy changes and implementation.
Paxton, who was facing possible contempt of court charges for the state's refusal to issue the license, vowed on Monday that the state would revise its policies within a week to allow all same-sex couples to obtain amended death and birth certificates.
During a Monday conference call, Paxton's office assured Garcia that "the state and its agencies will fully be in compliance" with the federal judge's July ruling prohibiting state officials from enforcing Texas' now-defunct ban on same-sex marriages. That order was issued shortly after the Supreme Court's ruling.
Garcia postponed a contempt of court hearing, originally scheduled for Wednesday, for Paxton and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the state health department, until Sept. 10 to ensure the state has implemented its revised policies.
- DSHS Memo Birth and Death Certificates (1.4 MB) DOWNLOAD