Paxton Dodges Same-Sex Marriage Contempt Hearing

Same-sex marriage became legal across the United States in June and, thus far at least, there's been very little substantive opposition. Through County Clerk John Warren, Dallas County began issuing licenses to same-sex couples the same day the Supreme Court ruled. The vast majority of Warren's counterparts quickly fell in line. Those who didn't and refused to issue licenses, like Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, got sued, quickly caved and allowed their offices to begin licensing same-sex marriages.

Over the course of the long Texas summer, though, the Texas Attorney General's Office, led by Ken Paxton, has proven to be an exception. Immediately after the Supreme Court took action, Paxton suggested that he sanctioned clerks not issuing licenses if they had religious objections. His office would help any clerks needing legal assistance for their unconstitutional actions, Paxton said at the time.

That was all well and good until Conroe's John Stone-Hoskins sought to amend his late husband's death certificate so he would be reflected as his spouse's spouse. Stone-Hoskins began battling the state soon after the ruling, getting into a lengthy email battle with the state bureaucracy. Stone-Hoskins was repeatedly told that the state was still researching whether his husband's death certificate should be amended to reflect their now nationally recognized union, so Stone-Hoskins sought to have Paxton and Kirk Cole, the interim commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, found in contempt of federal court.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ordered a contempt hearing for the not-so-dynamic duo. Pretty quickly, Stone-Hoskins' name was rightfully on his husband's death certificate and Paxton and Cole were trying to worm their way out of their contempt hearings. Paxton, after all, is under indictment for multiple felonies and has more pressing legal concerns.

Garcia initially agreed to push back the hearing. He didn't cancel it, because he wanted to make sure Paxton and Cole continued to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling. Late Tuesday, Garcia canceled the hearing entirely. 

"[T]he Court is of the opinion that State Defendants have fully complied with this Court's orders and the Supreme Court's Obergefell opinion recognizing same-sex marriage. Accordingly, the Court finds the contempt hearing scheduled for September 10, 2015, is no longer necessary and is hereby VACATED." Garcia wrote (emphasis his).

Since the contempt hearing was ordered, the state gave Garcia two updates about its compliance with the Supreme Court's decision. Over the course of a couple of weeks, Paxton's lawyers told the court, the DSHS had developed a new policy for issuing appropriate vital documents, like birth and death certificates, to same-sex married couples. Paxton also told the court that he will not represent any county clerk who denies same-sex couples marriage licenses or records.

"The Court expects that Ken Paxton, as Texas Attorney General, and Kirk Cole, as interim Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, will utilize their unique positions to ensure proper implementation of the law across the State of Texas," Garcia wrote.

So that's it. All that bluster and time wasted by Paxton and he just quit. Good for him and good for John Stone-Hoskins. 

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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