John Stone-Hoskins fought the state of Texas for six weeks to obtain a death certificate listing him as the husband of James Stone-Hoskins, who died in January.
On Thursday, after a federal judge ordered the state to issue the amended death certificate, Stone-Hoskins finally received it. But the 37-year-old former police officer from Conroe, now terminally ill himself, isn’t done yet.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia has ordered embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton (second photo) and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, to appear in court Wednesday to explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt for refusing to issue the amended death certificate.
Stone-Hoskins (photo right), whom doctors estimate has 45-60 days to live, said he hopes Paxton and Cole will be held in contempt and subjected to fines, jail time and damages.
“I don’t literally want his head on a platter, but figuratively I want his ass on a platter, served up warm for the guests,” Stone-Hoskins said of Paxton in an interview with Project Q Houston.
And apparently he's not alone.
Another gay widower who was denied an accurate death certificate, as well as a same-sex couple who were denied an accurate birth certificate, have both requested to appear at the contempt hearing in San Antonio, the Texas Observer reports.
Ken Upton Jr., senior counsel for Lambda Legal, said in a letter to Garcia on Friday that although officials finally issued the amended death certificate to Stone-Hoskins, they're continuing to resist the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, as well as Garcia's subsequent order enjoining the state from enforcing its same-sex marriage ban.
“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 wrote in his letter to Garcia, adding that the state health agency has “steadfastly refused” to do so.
In a motion responding to Garcia’s order setting the contempt hearing, the attorney general’s office asked Garcia to cancel the contempt hearing now that Stone-Hoskins has received an amended death certificate. The AG's office also argued it’s unclear whether the high court's ruling applies to death certificates retroactively.
“The Attorney General has not refused to amend any death certificate,” the 11-page motion states. “Instead, he is providing legal advice and representation to a client who has preferred to seek court guidance on whether Obergefell retroactively requires that he take action that will significantly impact settled proceedings. There is absolutely no authority for the proposition that a constitutional officer of a State may be held in contempt for good-faith representation of a client in discharging his constitutional duty.”
'This fight is what's kept me going'
But Upton told Project Q the question of retroactivity is long since settled.
“It is black letter law that when a state law is held unconstitutional, it is void as of the date it was enacted, not the date the court rules,” he said. “It is as if the law never existed. This isn't about a law that was changed, it is about a law that was declared unconstitutional. Every law student who passes constitutional law should know that rule.”
Stone-Hoskins said in addition to sanctions against Paxton, his goal is to ensure that all Texans have access to accurate vital records going forward, without going to court.
Shortly after his husband's death, John Stone-Hoskins was diagnosed with cancer, in addition to gall bladder, heart and liver problems.
Immediately after the high court's ruling in Obergefell, he submitted a request for an accurate death certificate reflecting the couple's marriage in New Mexico last year, in part because he would need it to settle his husband's estate — and ultimately his own. DSHS officials initially told him to be patient as they were still reviewing the matter, but eventually said they wouldn't issue an amended death certificate absent a court order.
Stone-Hoskins said Garcia's order, along with the amended death certificate, have brought him some peace, but he won't be satisfied until the issue is fully resolved.
"I literally don't have the energy to do anything, but this fight is what's kept me going," Stone-Hoskins said. "If this is the last battle I'm ever engaged in, I hope that it is successful and nobody has to go through the torture that I've been through, and that torture was caused by the state."