Days after the Supreme Court brought marriage equality to America in Obergefell v. Hodges, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a formal opinion of dubious accuracy encouraging anti-gay clerks to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Paxton also noted that “numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs” if any gay couples sued to vindicate their rights. And in a Facebook post, Paxton criticized Obergefell as “a dilution of marriage” and a “lawless” ruling.
Encouraging public employees to disobey a binding Supreme Court decision isn’t really what attorneys general are supposed to do. But it turns out Ken Paxton is no ordinary attorney general. Soon after his Obergefell tantrum, Paxton was indicted on felony security fraud charges. According to the indictment, Paxton told friends to buy shares in Servergy, pitching it as a groovy company he was psyched to invest in. But as it turns out, Paxton wasn’t acting out of the goodness of his heart: He was allegedly making secret commissions on the transactions he secured. (Paxton had already admitted to acting as a securities broker without registering with the state, paying a $1,000 fine for the misdeed.)
Since Paxton’s indictment, he has burned through three lawyers; the latest lawyer to jump ship did so at Paxton’s arraignment on Thursday, citing attorney-client disputes. (Prosecutors are concerned that the lawyer switcheroo is just a delaying tactic.) At that same disastrous proceeding, Paxton also failed to stand when addressing the bench, prompting a stern warning from the judge. And when Paxton lectured the judge about why cameras should be barred from his trial, the judge cut him off, noting that he would decide how to run his courtroom.
In the middle of all this, Paxton is still contending with those pesky gays. On July 7, a federal judge ordered the Texas Department of State Health Services to modify the death certificate of a James Stone-Hoskins, a gay man who was married in New Mexico but died in Texas pre-Obergefell. The certificate, the judge held, should list Stone-Hoskins as married—since he was—and name his surviving spouse. But Paxton directed the department to disobey the court order and continue to consider Stone-Hoskins unmarried.
Upon learning of Paxton’s defiance, the judge called a hearing to determine whether he should be held in contempt of court. On Tuesday, Paxton asked the judge to cancel the hearing, declaring that the state would now recognize same-sex couples on birth and death certificates. But the possibility of punishment still dangles over his head, and gay Texans are lining up to testify that the state continues to deny them equal treatment.
In his Facebook diatribe against Obergefell, Paxton lambasted the decision as “lawless.” It appears, however, that Paxton may be more deserving of that description. Anti-gay conservatives are still looking for the next moral crusader against gay rights. He doesn’t have to tell the truth, but he does have to stay on the right side of the law. And under that criterion, it appears that Paxton is out of the running.