Dying Ohio Man Wins Right for Husband to be Recognized
An Ohio couple who were forced to fly to Maryland so they could be married have now won the right to have their marriage recognized within Ohio’s borders after a lightning fast federal review.
Regular readers will remember the emotional story of John Arthur and James Obergefell, the Ohio couple who, facing John Arthur’s terminal and rapidly progressing illness ALS, decided to embark on an extraordinary journey to Maryland so that they could marry.
Though it took a specially fitted plane and more than $12,000 in order to get the bed-ridden Arthur to Maryland and back, the couple were successful in that endeavor and a video report of their so-called Perfect Day soon went viral across the Internet. The amazing couple wasn’t done beating the odds yet, however.
Late last week the couple embarked on a federal lawsuit for marriage recognition.
The couple is suing Ohio Governor John Kasich, state Attorney General Mike Dewine and the county officials in charge of approving death certificates saying that, despite them now being legally married, Ohio’s marriage equality ban means that when Arthur dies, Obergefell will not be listed as his spouse on the death certificate, which in turn would mean that there is no hope for the two being buried side by side in Arthur’s family plot.
The couple asked to have this case heard on an expedited basis due to Arthur’s being “certain to die soon.” Few would have predicted how quick the lawsuit would yield results, however.
In a hearing on Monday, Judge Timothy Black issued a preliminary opinion granting the couple immediate relief, saying:
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.’
The order will remain in effect until 5 p.m. Aug. 5, unless the court finds cause to extend the order.
The judge reasoned that “By treating lawful same sex marriages differently than it treats lawful opposite sex marriages,” Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage recognition “likely [violates...] the United States Constitution.”
Furthermore, there is an interesting point of fact in Ohio law. As Black wrote:
Ohio law has historically and unambiguously provided that the validity of the marriage is determined by whether it complies with the law of the jurisdiction where it was celebrated.
In effect, because gay marriage is recognized in Maryland, the couple’s marriage should also be recognized in Ohio.
On the specifics of the state’s gay marriage ban, Black said that given the Supreme Court of the United State’s June decision to strike down DOMA Section 3 in United States v. Windsor, and also the precedent setting 1996 decision in Romer v. Evans, as well as other similar cases, there is reasonable grounds to think the 2004 ban violates the US Constitution.
Black, however, made explicitly clear that Monday’s decision only applies to plaintiffs Arthur and Obergefell. Clearly, though, there is wider import given that a federal judge has now cast doubt on the ban.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWin’s office defended the ban, saying any relief in this case would amount to a “radical” reshaping of Ohio and federal law.
The AG’s office cited state autonomy and Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act that, as it remains in effect, means states do not have to recognize gay marriages conducted in other states (unless, that is, state law says the contrary).
However, Cincinnati city lawyers representing Dr. Camille Jones, the vital statistics registrar for the city, refused to defend the law, calling it a “discriminatory ban on same-sex marriages,” but they did note that the City’s vital statistics registrar is nevertheless bound to follow the law while it is in effect.
The injunction does not mean an end of the lawsuit, but it appears the primary goal in filing the suit has now been reached.
“We do hope to build from here and have this be the first step towards marriage equality in Ohio,” said the couple’s lawyers ahead of Monday’s hearing. “But for now, we just want to be sure that when John dies, the death record shows him as married.”
It is unclear at this time what action the state’s administration will now take, with Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols telling BuzzFeed, “We don’t comment on pending litigation other than to say the that the governor believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
As it stands, John Arthur can now go to rest knowing that his marriage, extraordinary intervention not withstanding, will be recorded as valid in Ohio.
Furthermore, he might also know the huge debt of gratitude other Ohio same-sex couples will feel for the couple as this suit appears to have dramatically advanced the fight for marriage equality in the state.
It remains painful, however, that the couple are forced to spend John Arthur’s last days fighting for rights that should already be theirs.
Image credit: Thinkstock.