The state of Texas has changed a gay man’s death certificate to list his husband as the surviving spouse, but a court fight goes on — the latest ripple from the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country.
John and James Stone-Hoskins married in August 2014 in New Mexico, where same-sex marriage was legal. Both were lifelong Texans, but gay marriage was not legal in their home state.
When James died in February, after a painful health decline from an immune disorder known as Sjogren’s syndrome, Texas listed John as “significant other” on the death certificate.
Under a federal judge’s order, the state changed the certificate on Thursday. But John Stone-Hoskins is pressing ahead with a bid to have Attorney General Ken Paxton held in contempt.
“If someone else in John's position were to make the same request of the department," said Neel Lane, a lawyer for John Stone-Hoskins. "The department gives us no assurance that they will grant that request. They, too, will have to file suit themselves."
Paxton had been bracing for the fight. After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country, in June, his office said in a statement:
“Now hundreds of Texas public officials are seeking guidance on how to implement what amounts to a lawless decision by an activist Court while adhering both to their respective faiths and their responsibility to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.”
Lane contends that the attorney general's characterization of the decision as "lawless" indicates a disregard for the rights of gay and lesbian couples in Texas.
“If you say that as the top law enforcement officer of the state, it’s a dog whistle to do everything they can to deny those rights,” he said.
Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said in a statement last week that retroactively recognizing same-sex marriages is “a complex issue that must be resolved in a separate case.”
Lane said his client's story has galvanized the LGBT community in Texas, some of whom have reached out to him with similar stories.
"If the state was really committed to honoring the federal decisions about its gay and lesbian citizens to have their rights recognized, then we wouldn't be where we are," he said. "That is contempt."
The fight, Stone-Hoskins said, is one he hopes "stops the endless cycles of people being denied equal treatment."