John Stone-Hoskins knew he was dying when he decided to take the state of Texas to court.
He had been fighting ever since the United States Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal across the country. Within hours of the ruling, he picked up the phone to call the Texas Department of State Health Services, asking that they please amend his husband’s death certificate to reflect their marriage. His husband had died in January 2015, yet the certificate listed him as single, as if Stone-Hoskins was never even part of his life.
When the office, with the guidance of Attorney General Ken Paxton, refused to change it, saying the Supreme Court ruling did not apply retroactively, Stone-Hoskins decided that he would spend his final days fighting for the rights of all other gay and lesbian couples in the state of Texas.
Stone-Hoskins died on October 10, just two months after he won in court.
Thanks to Stone-Hoskins, in August a court order and a threat of contempt-of-court against Paxton and State Health Services Interim Director Kirk Cole finally forced the state to agree to amend not just Stone-Hoskins’s husband’s death certificate but all gay and lesbian couples’ death and birth certificates across the state. On August 5, the day after he celebrated his last birthday, Stone-Hoskins received his husband's new death certificate in the mail — the little words “surviving partner” finally listed next to his name.
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“Once he got the death certificate and saw there were others who would be in the same position, he didn’t want to leave them behind,” his attorney, Neel Lane, told the Houston Press in August. "He committed himself to making sure that the state did something that would be more durable than just issue one death certificate and walk away.”
Stone-Hoskins died at age 37. He had been a police officer in northeast Texas until 2014, when he took a job as a senior technical analyst at a hospital company. He and his husband bonded over their love of technology, spending time building their own surveillance camera system they wired around the house or a remote-controlled lawn mower — a project his husband was close to finishing before he died. Stone-Hoskins had spent much of their ten-year relationship taking care of him, as he was bed-ridden due to Sjögren’s syndrome.
“James changed a lot with Jay,” said Stone-Hoskins’s longtime friend Barry McClung, who moved in with Stone-Hoskins in order to take care of him. “He began to trust people more. He was more open. He smiled more…Jay never gives up on nothing.”
After hearing of his death, Lane wrote on Facebook that, in his final days, Stone-Hoskins had told him he was happy. He had lived to see thousands of other Texans finally be able to let their loved ones rest in peace — now with their rights properly upheld.