Folding Like a Cheap Suit

by Dan Quinn

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s personal jihad against the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples is falling apart. Faced with a possible contempt charge from an angry federal judge, Paxton this week decided the state must acknowledge the legally married spouses of same-sex couples on both death and birth certificates.

Paxton’s office had advised Texas officials that it was unclear whether the state had to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples conducted before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on such unions in June. That advice came despite an order by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that Texas officials may not, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, impose restrictions on the marriages of those couples.

Based on Paxton’s advice, the Department of State Health Services refused to change a death certificate to reflect that a deceased man was the legally married spouse of his surviving husband. Moreover, state officials were refusing to list the names of both legally married, same-sex parents on the birth certificates of their adopted children.

The failure to comply with Judge Garcia’s order (to essentially obey the U.S. Supreme Court) imposed unnecessary legal problems on the families of legally married same-sex couples. In the death certificate case, for example, the surviving spouse (who himself suffers from terminal cancer) couldn’t obtain title to his late husband’s estate unless the death certificate were revised to acknowledge their marriage.

Judge Garcia last week ordered Paxton and the head of the Department of State Health Services to appear before him and explain why they shouldn’t be held in contempt for failing to comply with his earlier order. Paxton — who already has had to back away from his formal opinion that state officials can refuse, on religious grounds, to license or perform the marriages of same-sex couples — then reversed his advice. Now state officials will acknowledge legally married same-sex spouses on death certificates as well as the birth certificates of their adopted children.

Why did Paxton fold like a cheap suit? Perhaps he figured he has enough legal troubles on his plate without also facing a contempt charge from a federal judge. Earlier this month a grand jury in North Texas  indicted Paxton on unrelated felony charges that could send him to prison for decades.

Keep in mind that Paxton is the state’s leading law enforcement official.

Our friends at Equality Texas have more on this issue here.