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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Texas AG no longer facing contempt hearing over gay rights

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The possibility of Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton being held in contempt of court for impeding gay rights diminished Monday after a lawyer said the state agreed to update vital records policies for same-sex couples.

Word of a resolution came only hours after Paxton told U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia – who had ordered Paxton to appear before him later this week – that no “high-ranking government official” should be compelled to personally show up in court barring extraordinary circumstances.

A contempt hearing in federal court would have been a highly visible moment for Paxton, who has been trying to keep a low profile since being indicted on securities fraud charges last month.

The dispute began last week when a gay Houston man, John Stone-Hoskins, said state health officials refused to amend the death certificate of his late husband. That led Garcia to order Paxton to his courtroom to explain why the state appeared to be in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage earlier this summer.

Neel Lane, an attorney for the surviving husband, said an agreement reached Monday should spare other Texas same-sex couples from similar hurdles. He said the Texas Department of State Health Services is now drafting policies for birth and death certificates for same-sex couples that should be finished this week.

“We’ve gotten what we set out to get for John and for all same-sex couples,” Lane said.

Paxton spokesman Cynthia Meyer said a contempt hearing had been canceled while state health officials finalize guidelines. In an order, Garcia said Paxton’s office told him the state is “working diligently to finalize policies that should prevent the recurrence of these issues in the future.”

But before that, Lane had taken a far harsher tone after Paxton said he shouldn’t have to appear for a contempt hearing, writing in a court filing that Paxton had “gone out of his way” to undermine the Supreme Court’s decision.

Critics have accused Paxton, a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, of resisting the landmark ruling by advising county clerks in Texas that they could refuse marriage licenses to gay couples on religious grounds.

Chris Van Deusen, a state health department spokesman, said the agency will work as quickly as possible to implement the new policy.

Paxton’s attorney has said the attorney general will plead not guilty to first-degree charges of defrauding investors. Paxton’s first court appearance is scheduled for later this month in Fort Worth.

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