Judge Cancels Contempt|Hearing for Texas AG

(CN) – A federal judge canceled a Wednesday contempt hearing for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the state’s top public health official after they agreed to issue new guidelines allowing gay parents and spouses to be listed on birth and death certificates.
     The mess began on Aug. 5 when John Allen Stone-Hoskins, of Conroe, asked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to hold Paxton and Texas Department of State Health Services Interim Commissioner Kirk Cole in contempt for refusing to issue a death certificate for his deceased husband, showing Stone-Hoskins as his spouse.
     Judge Garcia on July 7 had permanently enjoined the state from enforcing Texas laws that ban or do not recognize gay marriage, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. Texas voters had approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2005 that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.
     Garcia ordered Paxton and Cole to appear before him at a contempt hearing this week to explain their actions. They folded and issued Stone-Hoskins the death certificate on Friday, but the hearing was not canceled because other people who say they were denied similar vital records wanted to attend.
     Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton Jr. wrote to Garcia on Friday that the Department of State Health Services continued to deny accurate birth certificates to children of same-sex couples. Upton said he and his clients, Susan Leigh Jorgeson and Robin Bass Jorgeson, planned to attend the hearing after they were denied an updated birth certificate on Aug. 5.
     “While it appears the defendants have issued the specific corrected death certificate you ordered, they are by no means complying with the permanent injunction you entered against them in this matter,” Upton told the judge, according to the Texas Observer.
     Stone-Hoskins’ attorney, Neel Lane with Akin Gump in San Antonio, told The Dallas Morning News that state attorneys told Garcia in a conference call Monday that Texas will issue new rules this week allowing same-sex coupled to be listed on birth and death certificates. Garcia then canceled the contempt hearing. If the rules are acceptable, there will be no further hearings in the case, Lane said.
     “Same-sex marriages are entitled to every benefit, recognition and dignity that every other marriage is entitled to,” Lane told the newspaper. “From the state’s point of view, this should be the final chapter.”
     Paxton filed a request hours earlier to quash Stone-Hoskins’ motion for him to appear at the hearing, claiming that neither he nor Cole should be compelled to appear. Any “high-ranking government official should not be compelled to personally appear and testify absent extraordinary circumstances,” the motion stated.
     Stone-Hoskins, who is dying , wanted the change made to plan for the passing of his estate, and to have his marriage recognized on his husband’s death certificate.
     “The need for relief is urgent. John is terminally ill,” his motion stated. “Doctors estimate he has no more than 45 to 60 days to live. Before he received this grim prognosis, John was married to James Stone-Hoskins. James died intestate in January 2015. At the time of his death, defendants refused to list John as his surviving spouse on James’ death certificate because, although John and James had been lawfully married in New Mexico, they were both men.”
     Such changes are “routinely and promptly” given to surviving spouses of heterosexual married couples, the motion stated.
     “John cannot do this, however, because defendants refuse to recognize John and James’s lawful out-of-state marriage and refuse to correct James’s death certificate,” the motion stated. “Thus, defendants continue to prevent John from gaining title to James’s estate as his surviving spouse, and continue to deprive him the dignity guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

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