Until death do us part

Posted on 07 Aug 2015 at 6:45am

Lawsuit seeks to amend a death certificate and charges AG with contempt of court for ignoring Supreme Court ruling


James Stone, left, married John Hoskins in New Mexico last August. (Courtesy John Stone-Hoskins)

DAVID TAFFET  | Senior Staff Writer

Six months after his husband died, a Texas man is still fighting for legal recognition on his relationship.

Just hours after John Hoskins filed a motion to intervene against the state of Texas for refusing to amend his husband’s death certificate, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ordered the state to issue the amended document.

The motion was filed on Aug. 5 by attorney Neel Lane, who represented two couples in the Texas marriage-equality case. In February 2014, Garcia ruled the Texas constitution’s marriage amendment was unconstitutional. That decision was stayed pending appeal, but affirmed by the Fifth District Court of Appeals after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“Texas denied them the dignity and respect they were entitled to,” Lane said.

At a press conference after filing the petition, Lane held up the death certificate issued to Hoskins and pointed to the blank line for spouse. “That blank spot erases everything represented by their marriage,” he said.

The motion not only asks that an amended death certificate be issued, giving Hoskins the right to inherit his husband’s estate, but asks that Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, and Attorney General Ken Paxton be held in contempt of court.

Garcia insisted Texas issue the new death certificate immediately, and gave Cole and Paxton until Aug. 10 to submit written responses to the charges of contempt. They must appear in his San Antonio court on Aug. 12.

Mark Phariss, a plaintiff in the Texas marriage-equality case, said Garcia’s quick ruling indicated the judge will make sure same-sex couples have the right to all of the benefits of marriage in Texas, and he’s not going to be tolerant of those who try to obstruct full implementation of the Obergefell marriage-equality decision.

Hoskins and his husband James Stone were legally married in New Mexico in August 2014, on their 10th anniversary. Stone, 32, committed suicide in January in Conroe after a battle with Sjogren’s Syndrome, a genetic autoimmune disorder.

Because the death occurred before the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 marriage-equality ruling, Texas listed Stone as single and referred to Hoskins as “significant other” on the death certificate.

After the Obergefell decision, Hoskins took his husband’s death certificate to a state health department office to have it amended. He was told by the clerk that they were awaiting instructions on amending vital records, but to check back in a week.

Hoskins said when he returned to the office, he was told they were not going to amend the certificate.

“We shared a last name,” Hoskins said. “Conroe police referred to me as the husband in the police report.”

But when the certificate was issued, Texas refused to list him as husband or to acknowledge the name they had changed to Stone-Hoskins.

He said he gave the state multiple opportunities to amend the document and that has caused emotional stress.

Hoskins was recently diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer and said he may not have more than two more months to live.

“I may only have a very short time to live and I want to see this accomplished and this death certificate amended before I die,” he said.

And it looks as if Garcia will make sure his wish comes true.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 7, 2015.

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