In a narrow ruling with broad implications, a federal district court judge ruled Monday that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages, at least when it comes to death certificates. However, the language Judge Timothy Black used in his decision was so sweeping that it’s hard to see how the state’s ban on marriage equality can withstand future challenges.
Black was ruling in the case of John Arthur and Jim Obergefell, an Ohio couple who were married in Maryland. The wedding was Arthur’s dying wish. (He has since succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s disease.) Upon return, the couple challenged the state’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages. Black then issued an initial opinion temporarily blocking the state from not listing Obergefell as Arthur’s spouse on his death certificate.
Black’s latest ruling makes that decision final and applies it to any surviving spouse. Moreover, Black essentially set up the framework for striking down Ohio’s marriage ban.
“And 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, citing the year Ohio passed a ban on same-sex marriage. “Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”
In addition, Black said that “once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away.”
“When a state effectively terminates the marriage of a same-sex couple married in another jurisdiction, it intrudes into the realm of private marital, family, and intimate relations specifically protected by the Supreme Court,” he wrote.
Black’s ruling brings Ohio that much closer to marriage equality. Meanwhile, the sentiment of voters is on the side of change. Polls consistently show a majority of Ohioans now support allowing same-sex weddings to take place. 2014 may be the year that their wish comes true.