Justice

The Mistreatment Of A Dying Gay Man In Texas Goes ‘A Step Beyond Even Westboro Baptist Church’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), who could be held in contempt of court for refusing to respect the Constitution

Half a year ago, John Allen Stone-Hoskins returned home to discover that his husband had hung himself, a tragedy that may have occurred after a medication that Stone-Hoskins’s husband James was taking triggered a psychotic episode. What followed was a series of cruelties that, as the Dallas Voice noted, “may have gone a step beyond even Westboro Baptist Church.”

Though the two men lived together in Texas, James wished to be buried next to his father at a cemetery in Mountain Home, Arkansas. Yet, when John contacted two local churches to ask if they would perform funeral rites for his late husband, he says that he was told that they would not conduct a funeral for someone who was gay. After John found a friend who was willing to say James’s last rites, several members of one nearby anti-gay church attended the funeral. At the service, two of these church members passed out envelopes to John, James’s mother and to the chaplain. They each contained “18 pages of hate-filled rhetoric telling the dead man’s friends and loved ones they’re going to hell.”

Nor were these cruelties limited to Mountain Home. According to an emergency motion filed by John’s attorney on Wednesday, the state of Texas has not complied with court orders “by refusing John’s request that the State amend the death certificate of his late husband James to reflect that John is his surviving spouse.” Even in John’s moment of great sorrow, Texas continues to wage a war against marriage equality — despite a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States commanding them to lay down their arms.

The emergency motion also discloses one more detail about John Allen Stone-Hoskins. John has cancer, and his doctors “estimate he has no more than 45 to 60 days to live.” If the state does not stop resisting its constitutional obligation soon, John will die without ever having his rights vindicated in life.

As a legal matter, it’s hard to imagine a litigant with a stronger claim for relief. The facts of John’s situation are, in all relevant respects, identical to the situation that faced Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision. Like John, Obergefell is a gay man who married his late husband in a state that recognized the equal marriage rights of same-sex couples, only to return home to a state that refused to honor those rights. John is asking for the exact same relief that Obergefell sought.

Moreover, as John’s attorney explains in the emergency motion, Texas is already subject to a court order from a federal district judge providing that the state is “permanently enjoined from enforcing Texas’s laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.” The motion does not simply ask that same judge to honor the rights John is entitled to under the Constitution, it also asks that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) and the state’s interim health services director Kirk Cole be held in contempt of court.

Acting with speed that is typically unheard of in the federal judiciary outside of last minute appeals of a death sentence, Judge Orlando Garcia granted John’s motion the same day that it was filed. Garcia’s order does not simply order Cole to “immediately issue an amended death certificate for James H. Stone-Hoskins to state that John Allen Stone-Hoskins is the surviving spouse of James, and in doing so, fully recognize their legal out-of-state marriage,” it also orders both Cole and Paxton to appear in court “to determine whether Defendants should be held in contempt for disobedience of this Court’s July 7, 2015 order, permanently enjoining Defendants from enforcing any Texas’s laws that prohibit or fail to recognize same-sex marriage.”