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Federal Judge Orders Ohio Officials to Recognize Same-Sex Couple’s Marriage

by Justin Snow
Saturday Jul 27, 2013
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A federal judge Monday ordered Ohio officials to recognize the marriage of a same-sex couple wed in Maryland on the death certificate of one of the two men currently in hospice care.

Timothy Black.jpgU.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black wrote in Monday’s order that despite Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, "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."

Moreover, Black states that Ohio law "likely violates the United States Constitution" by treating lawful same-sex marriages differently than it does lawful opposite-sex marriages, including those that are not permitted to be performed in Ohio but are still recognized when legally performed elsewhere.

"Although the law has long recognized that marriage and domestic relations are matters generally left to the states," Black wrote, "the restrictions imposed on marriage by states, however, must nonetheless comply with the Constitution."

The order concerns plaintiffs James Obergefell and John Arthur, a same-sex couple from Cincinnati who have been together for more than 20 years. Although Arthur is currently in hospice care and "certain to die soon" from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the couple flew to Maryland on July 11 in a jet equipped with medical staff and equipment and were married on the tarmac in Anne Arundel County.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling last month to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the couple’s marriage in Maryland is now recognized by the federal government, but under Ohio law Arthur’s martial status would be listed as "unmarried" on his death certificate and Obergefell would not be noted as a "surviving spouse."

"Dying with an incorrect death certificate that prohibits Mr. Arthur from being buried with dignity constitutes irreparable harm. Furthermore, Mr. Arthur’s harm is irreparable because his injury is present now, while he is alive," Black, who was nominated by to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2009, wrote in his order today. "A later decision allowing an amendment to the death certificate cannot remediate the harm to Mr. Arthur, as he will have passed away."

Quoting from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s sweeping majority ruling in the Windsor case, Black added that Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban is meant to "impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States."

Wrote Black, "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.’"

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