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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 26, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 30
Ohio ordered to recognize couple's same-sex marriage
Section One
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Ohio ordered to recognize couple's same-sex marriage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal district judge in Ohio has ordered the state to recognize the marriage of two Cincinnati men, one of whom is terminally ill.

John Arthur and James Obergefell were married in Maryland on July 11. The couple 'have been living together in a committed and intimate relationship for more than 20 years,' Judge Timothy Black noted in his July 22 order.

Arthur is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as 'Lou Gehrig's disease,' which prompted the couple to fly to Maryland to get married.

According to Judge Black's account, the pair 'traveled to Maryland in a special jet equipped with medical equipment and a medical staff necessary to serve Mr. Arthur's needs, whereupon Plaintiffs were married in the jet as it sat on the tarmac in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. They returned to Cincinnati that same day.'

SURVIVOR STATUS SOUGHT
In view of Arthur's impending death, the couple sued the state of Ohio demanding that Obergefell be recognized as his surviving spouse.

'The end result here and now is that the local Ohio Registrar of death certificates is hereby ordered not to accept for recording a death certificate for John Arthur that does not record Mr. Arthur's status at death as 'married' and James Obergefell as his 'surviving spouse,' Black wrote. The order is in effect until 5 p.m. August 5, unless the court extends it at a later date.

'By treating lawful same-sex marriages differently than it treats lawful opposite-sex marriages,' the judge concluded, Ohio's 2004 constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriages and Ohio's statute addressing the same issue 'likely violate the United States Constitution.'

In his ruling, Black explained, 'Although the law has long recognized that marriage and domestic relations are matters generally left to the states, the restrictions imposed on marriage by states, however, must nonetheless comply with the [U.S.] Constitution.'

Black then examined the Supreme Court's decision striking down Section 3 of DOMA in United States v. Windsor, its 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans invalidating state 'sodomy' laws, and other decisions finding differential treatment to be unconstitutional under the Constitution's equal protection clause.

'The purpose served by treating same-sex married couples differently than opposite-sex married couples is the same improper purpose that failed in Windsor and in Romer: 'to impose inequality' and to make Gay citizens unequal under the law,' Black concluded.

'A MAJOR STEP'
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office defended Ohio state law in filings with the court, but lawyers representing the City of Cincinnati and Dr. Camille Jones, the City's vital statistics registrar, declined to defend the law.

'The City will not defend Ohio's discriminatory ban on same-sex marriages, but the City's vital statistics registrar is bound to follow Ohio law until that law is changed or overturned,' the Cincinnati attorneys told Judge Black.

Al Gerhardstein, the attorney who represented Hanna and Hudson, said in a statement, 'This order is a major step on the march toward marriage equality in Ohio.'

Gay activist and blogger John Aravosis credited Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion in Windsor with setting the stage for Judge Black's order in Ohio.

'I really think the [Supreme Court] granted us nationwide Gay marriage in all but name,' Aravosis wrote. 'Yes, the way they did it requires us to go state-by-state and strike down individual state-DOMA laws, but that was the genius of the court's decision. They paid homage to the notion that the court shouldn't upend the 'democratic experiment' taking place in the states, while at the same time coming up with a decision that basically leaves the states no wiggle room to say 'no' to marriage equality for Gays once the state DOMAs are challenged.

'So yes, it will take longer for us to get marriage in 50 states - thus a nod to the notion that the court shouldn't change everything nationwide immediately - but at the same time, they pretty much guaranteed that we'll win. And this Ohio ruling is quite possibly the first evidence of that fact.'

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