Ohio Marriage Equality Lawsuit Expands To Include All Same-Sex Couples


Jim Obergefell and the late John Arthur, a married Ohio couple

Married Ohio couple Jim Obergefell and John Arthur.

Married Ohio couple Jim Obergefell and John Arthur.

A suit filed in an Ohio federal court seeking recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states — at least in death — has expanded to include all same-sex couples in the state. It was originally filed by Jim Obergefell and John Arthur because Arthur is dying of ALS and they wanted to make sure their marriage is recognized on his death certificate. Their wish was granted in the form of a temporary restraining order.

The suit expanded earlier this month after David Michener’s husband, William Herbert, died unexpectedly. Judge Timothy Black allowed Michener to join the case and similarly ruled that he must be listed on Herbert’s death certificate. Now Black has agreed to consider the case in terms of all same-sex couples and is expected to rule in December.

Opponents of marriage equality, like Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values, claim that the death certificate question is a “back door” into marriage equality. There’s nothing particularly covert about it. This case highlights how same-sex couples are singled out for discrimination, whereas marriages performed in other states that would also not be permitted in Ohio — like marriages between cousins or people too young to consent — are recognized when they return to Ohio. Any aspect of marriage inequality, be it filing taxes, adoption, or death certificates, is perfectly reasonable to use in an argument against this second-class treatment.

One state lawmaker is so outraged that Black has been ruling favorably in the case that he is calling for the judge to be impeached. According to Rep. John Becker (R), Black “has demonstrated his incompetence by allowing his personal political bias to supersede jurisprudence.” Of course, as Justice Kennedy wrote in his decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, discriminating against same-sex marriages imposes “a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma” upon those families. As far as jurisprudence goes, Black likely has many competent reasons to rule that Ohio same-sex families deserve equal protection under the law.