Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seems to have his sights set on being the next Religious Right martyr.
In a move that is as petty as it is mean spirited, Paxton recently asked a court not to recognize the common-law marriage of two women, one of whom is now deceased. The issue arose when Sonemaly Phrasavath, surviving wife of Stella Powell, made a claim to the inheritance that Powell left her when she died in 2014.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern reported that Phrasavath and Powell lived together in Texas for nearly eight years, held a marriage ceremony in 2008 and signed legal documents declaring their domestic partnership. Under Texas law those actions would add up to a legal marriage for a heterosexual couple, but of course that status for same-sex couples was not recognized in the state before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.
With marriage equality now the law of the land, Phrasavath should have had no trouble getting her inheritance. But not so fast, said Paxton. Powell’s relatives don’t want Phrasavath to get a dime, and Paxton was all too happy to intervene. So he filed a motion to prevent Phrasavath and Powell from being declared common-law partners.
Given Paxton’s well-documented opposition to marriage equality, it comes as no surprise that he took a position intended to deny civil rights to a gay couple. But the move came on the heels of Paxton’s promise to a federal court that he would stop doing this sort of thing. In a nearly identical case, Paxton previously refused to name a same-sex surviving spouse on a deceased man’s death certificate.
For his refusal to obey the law Paxton faced a contempt of court hearing, but he told a federal judge that he would fall in line going forward.
Well, it looks like Paxton isn’t behaving. And why? It seems he is willing to deny a grieving woman money to which she is legally entitled so he can prove to the Religious Right that he will do its bidding.
Paxton would seem a poor choice for a conservative hero given that he is the proud owner of a new mugshot after a grand jury indicted him on three felony charges: two for securities fraud and one count of acting as an unregistered investment advisor.
The Texas Tribune reported that Paxton allegedly encouraged two men to purchase more than $100,000 worth of stock in a technology company without telling the prospective buyers that the corporation had paid him. One of the alleged victims is state Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana).
The case also alleges that Paxton did not explain to the buyers that the shares he owned in the company were given to him as payment for services and not the result of his decision to invest in the corporation.
If Paxton’s goal is to be like Rowan County, Ky., Clerk Kim Davis and end up in behind bars, he may get that chance. Since he previously faced a contempt of court charge, then did the very thing he promised not to do, it seems pretty likely that he will have to answer for his actions in court. Whether or not a judge will throw him in jail is hard to say, but Paxton certainly deserves punishment for refusing to uphold the U.S. Constitution and for going back on his word.
When these matters are sorted out, perhaps Paxton will realize that his fight was for naught. The battle for marriage equality is over and religious conservatives lost. No amount of maneuvering by Paxton will change that outcome.
Paxton also needs to learn a pretty simple lesson: Denying rights to a widow under the guise of your religious beliefs doesn’t make you a hero. It makes you a bully.