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Ohio Judge Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage On Death Certificates

Ruling may prompt reversal of Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban.

A Cincinnati federal judge ordered authorities on Dec. 23 to recognize gay marriage on death certificates – a decision which could set the stage for a reversal of Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriages.

The Cincinnati Enquirer writes that while Judge Timothy Black’s ruling applies exclusively to death certificates, his statements regarding Ohio’s gay-marriage ban are comprehensive and expected to incite continued litigation challenging the law.

“The question presented is whether a state can do what the federal government cannot — i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004),” Black wrote in reference to the year Ohio’s gay marriage ban passed. “Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”

The judge’s decision is a reflection of a lawsuit filed in July 2013 by Jim Obergefell of Cincinnati and another gay Ohio man whose spouses recently died. Each wanted to be recognized on their spouses’ death certificates as married. As for Obergefell, his partner of more than 20 years, John Arthur, died in October only three months after they were medically transported to Maryland in order to be legally wed.

“I had to fight to keep from crying because I miss John and I wish he were here to celebrate with me,” Obergefell said after learning of Black’s ruling.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the state appeals it,” he added. “(Attorney General) Mike DeWine’s been pretty clear from the get-go that he will fight it. I’m in (this case) for as long as it needs me.”

Al Gerhardstein, Obergefell’s lawyer, said the Obergefell case was an ideal vehicle to challenge Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban, beginning with the death-certificate recognition, because the couple knew that one of the partners was terminally ill. This case was intentionally narrow. Rather than challenging same-sex marriage head on, it addressed whether a same-sex couple legally married in a different state could be listed on the partners’ death certificates.

Although the ruling was narrow, Black recognized that his decision could set a precedent for future cases.

“Once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away,” Black wrote in his 50-page decision. He referred to Ohio’s historical practice of recognizing other out-of-state marriages even though they legally can’t be performed in Ohio, such as those involving cousins or minors.

The decision was lauded by chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, Chris Redfern, who pronounced it in a press release as “a defeat of … Rick Santorum politics, and a victory for all Ohioans committed to equality under the law.”