Ohio’s ban on gay marriage ruled unconstitutional in limited case

December 23, 2013

Just three days after a federal judge in Utah declared that state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, a federal judge on Monday issued a much narrower ruling that Ohio’s ban on gay marriage is also unconstitutional.

Although Judge Timothy Black’s ruling applies only to death certificates, it is expected to be precedent-setting, leading to more lawsuits in Ohio challenging the law.

 

Black wrote that “once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away,” saying the right to remain married is recognized as a fundamental liberty in the U.S. Constitution.

“When a state effectively terminates the marriage of a same-sex couple married in another jurisdiction, it intrudes into the realm of private marital, family, and intimate relations specifically protected by the Supreme Court,” he wrote.

Ohio’s attorney general said the state will appeal.

Black’s decision stems from a lawsuit in July by two gay Ohio men whose spouses recently died and wanted to be recognized on their death certificates as married.

In July, Black issued a temporary restraining order in one of the cases, recognizing James Obergefell as John Arthur’s spouse, and suggested that failing to recognize the couple’s out-of-state union violated their rights to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

Obergefell and Arthur had been together for two decades and got married in in Maryland because Arthur had Lou Gehrig’s disease. Arthur died in October.

“This is not a complicated case,” Black wrote last summer. “The issue is whether the State of Ohio can discriminate against same sex marriages lawfully solemnized out of state, when Ohio law has historically and unambiguously provided that the validity of a marriage is determined by whether it complies with the law of the jurisdiction where it was celebrated.”

Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s marriage project director, said of the case: “This is particularly tragic and compelling case and it shows to all of us in the country, not just those of us who are gay or those of us who are in the judiciary, but to all Americans, the degree of commitment shown by many gay couples and their desire to take care of each other in the worst time of life that any of us can imagine,” Taylor said.

Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, said earlier that the case was “representative of the strategy advocates for redefining marriages are using,” in which “they make emotional appeals rather than rational ones.”

Sprigg said the case could have “legal significance” since it addresses one of the key issues left unresolved by the Supreme Court’s June ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act: namely, whether a state that bans same-sex marriage has to recognize a gay marriage that took place out of state.

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Niraj Chokshi | December 23, 2013