Ohio Same-Sex Couple Sues So Ailing Spouse’s Death Certificate Will Identify Him As Married

John Arthur is dying of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), and one of his dying wishes was to marry his partner of more than 20 years, Jim Obergefell. Earlier this month they accomplished just that by raising money to fly Arthur’s hospice bed to Maryland, marrying on the tarmac before returning to Ohio. Now, they’re suing in federal court to have their marriage recognized in their home state, hopefully before Arthur passes away.

The complaint points out that there are other types of marriages that would not be permitted in Ohio, but that are still recognized in Ohio if they are performed in other states. If Arthur dies before a Court can grant relief, his death certificate will read as “unmarried” and Obergefell will not be identified as a surviving spouse:

Opposite-sex couples who reside in Ohio and not in the jurisdictions where they celebrated their legal marriages will be entitled to all of those federal benefits even if (e.g., due to kinship or age) their marriages would not have been recognized in Ohio had they attempted to marry in Ohio. Same-sex married couples including James and John who do not reside in jurisdictions where they celebrated their legal marriages may be denied most of those federal benefits solely because they live in Ohio. Many state and private employer benefits will also be denied to same-sex couples married legally in other states and now residing and/or working in Ohio. […]

Unfortunately John is likely to die soon. If John dies first, the death record should record his “marital status at time of death” as “married.” Unless this Court acts, his death record, consistent with Ohio law, will list his status as unmarried. That form should also record James as the “surviving spouse”. Unless this Court acts, the death record will be blank for surviving spouse. That is, unless this court acts, the permanent death records for James and for John will not reflect their marriage at all. Opposite-sex couples married in other jurisdictions under circumstances otherwise not permitted in Ohio are treated completely differently. Their marriages will be reflected as valid and recognized on the death certificates of these opposite-sex couples.

The couple has requested an expedited hearing — to be held this afternoon — as well as a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the ban in case Arthur dies before the Court can act. In a subsequent briefing for the TRO, the couple points out the weaknesses of the many purported arguments for the ban, explaining how an inaccurate permanent death certificate constitutes irreparable harm, particularly if Arthur does not ever know that his marriage will be recognized after his passing.


Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has promised to defend the constitutionality of Ohio law. As a U.S. Senator, DeWine co-sponsored a proposed amendment banning same-sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution, and he has previously endorsed prominent homophobe Rick Santorum for president.

Watch Arthur and Obergefell’s powerful journey to Maryland to marry.