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Federal judge issues narrow ruling against Ohio’s marriage equality ban

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Ohio state sealNot to be outshone by Utah, Ohio is making news today on the marriage equality front as well: a federal judge has ordered the state to recognize all same-sex couples’ out-of-stage marriage licenses for the purposes of determining marital status on death certificates.  The AP reports:

Although Judge Timothy Black’s ruling applies only to death certificates, his statements about Ohio’s gay-marriage ban are sweeping, unequivocal and expected to incite further litigation challenging the law.

Black cited a prediction by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote in a strong dissenting opinion in June that the court majority’s decision to strike down part of an anti-gay marriage law would lead to a rash of state challenges.

Black said the prediction came true and now the lower courts must apply the high court’s ruling.

“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 said in reference to the year Ohio’s gay marriage ban passed. “Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”

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.

Judge Black pointed to previous precedent in Ohio in which out-of-state marriages that would have been illegal in Ohio–such as marriages between cousins or minors–were recognized by the state.

The Ohio lawsuit was originally brought by one couple, James Obergefell and John Arthur, seeking recognition of their Maryland marriage on a death certificate for Arthur, who suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and died in October.  Judge Black ruled in the couple’s favor, later expanding the case to include another same-sex couple and eventually to include all similarly situated couples in Ohio.

Black’s ruling today lays the groundwork for an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and, as the AP notes, will likely lead to legal challenges in the state to expand the decision’s reasoning to all same-sex couples, regardless of their health status.

Read the judge’s final order below, courtesy of Kathleen and Equality Case Files, as well as the permanent injunction in the case.

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  • 1. Richard Weatherwax  |  December 23, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Events are exploding so fast, that I can't look away from the computer screen without missing something. Keep up the good work.

  • 2. Kalil  |  December 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Is this actually a narrow ruling? p.48 of th decision, section 1 of his conclusion:

    "The Court finds and declares that Article 15, Section 11, of the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio Revised Code Section 3101.01(C), violate rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in that same-sex couples married in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is lawful, who seek to have their out-of-state marriage recognized and accepted as legal in Ohio, are denied their fundamental right to marriage recognition without due process of law; and are denied their fundamental right to equal protection of the laws when Ohio does recognize comparable heterosexual marriages from other jurisdictions, even if obtained to circumvent Ohio law."

    That doesn't seem narrow…

  • 3. Chris M.  |  December 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Pretty much an invitation to any Ohioan to get married elsewhere and sue for in-state recognition…

  • 4. Bruno71  |  December 23, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I would guess the Ohio AG will be requesting a stay on this ruling any minute now.

  • 5. Dr. Z  |  December 24, 2013 at 9:41 am

    If the AG was smart he'd leave this ruling alone and not appeal it. Fortunately for our side, the AG isn't smart and will appeal. That appeal is going to backfire.

  • 6. Dr. Z  |  December 24, 2013 at 9:38 am

    The judge was constrained by the type of relief sought by the plaintiffs. This was not a face challenge to the constitutionality of the Ohio DOMA law, it was a request for a permanent injunction to require the state to list the correct marital status on death certificates for lawful same-sex spouses. The judge makes it quite plain that DOMA is unconstitutional on equal protection and due process grounds and that laws regarding sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny (see footnote 22 on pg. 43) but the judge's hands are tied by the fact that this wasn't a face challenge. He clearly wanted to issue a broader ruling but was unable to do so.

  • 7. grod  |  December 26, 2013 at 5:31 am

    Does this no undercut Section 2 DOMA an restore Article IV Section 1 of the constitution?

  • 8. Wynngard  |  December 23, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    The District Court for the Western District of Virginia denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Virginia's same-sex marriage ban. Read the opinion here:

  • 9. sfbob  |  December 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    In all its geeky goodness, the denial actually dismisses one of the defendants, specifically the governor, in the case and retains the Staunton Circuit Court Clerk and the state Registrar of Vital Records as the proper parties to be sued. It appears that there actually is no real controversy about that decision. The most important thing is that there are still state officials available to be sued, specifically those who are charged with enforcing the marriage equality bans by refusing to issue licenses and by refusing to permit same-sex marriages to be recorded or recognized.

    It's definitely a win but a very preliminary one. And so it continues.

  • 10. Bruno71  |  December 23, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    It seems like they're including state officials that will possibly have standing to appeal the verdict if it goes our way?

  • 11. SFBay  |  December 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    FYI, I'm trying to click on the donation thermometer and it doesn't work. Where can I click to donate?

  • 12. davep  |  December 23, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Go back to the main page, select the "As the Year Ends…" article, and try clicking on it in that article.

  • 13. davep  |  December 23, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Woops! Nope, all of the thermometer links are now broken. I'll report it.

  • 14. Jacob Combs  |  December 23, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    The donate buttons should be fixed now!

  • 15. bayareajohn  |  December 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    So only the dead have rights in Ohio. Sounds so Republican. I bet they vote too.
    No wait, that's Illinois.

  • 16. clark  |  December 24, 2013 at 1:27 am

    Is it just me or are all of NOMs posts pretty much form letters that say exactly the same thing…with just a blank spot to (insert state here).

    "NOM condemns (Insert state) for blah…blah…will of the minority…blah..activist judges….blah blah gay pedos…war on christians….blah. PLEASE DONATE NOW!!!!!

  • 17. Craig Nelson  |  December 27, 2013 at 6:58 am

    This is a good case for SCOTUS to consider. Appeal away. I think specific end of life and childbearing decisions are much more likely to get SCOTUS involved. It is a very good enough example of the harms inflicted on LGBT families in breach of constitutional protections.

  • 18. Equality On TrialPlaintif&hellip  |  February 18, 2014 at 10:12 am

    […] district court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a narrow decision that applies only to the recognition of the […]

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