LASTING LEGACY

A Dying Gay Man’s Wedding Could Have A Big Impact On Marriage Law

John Arthur may be dying, but the legacy he is leaving behind with his husband Jim Obergefell will be felt in the law for years.

Arthur, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, married Obergefell, his partner of 20 years, in a ceremony on a runway in Maryland, where they had traveled on a medical flight. Upon return, the couple sought to have their marriage recognized in Ohio so that it would be included on John’s death certificate. In a strongly worded opinion, Federal Judge Timothy Black issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state from not recognizing the marriage.

Now Black has extended that restraining order until the end of the year, protecting Jim and John’s marriage in the interim. He also scheduled arguments for the case for December 18. The case has the potential to be a major blow to the state’s ban on marriage equality. In his original ruling, Black signaled that the law “likely violates the U.S. Constitution” and noted that Ohio doesn’t have a problem recognizing any other type of marriage performed elsewhere in the country.

The case that Jim and John have set in motion has the potential to answer a key question about the DOMA ruling: do states have the right to pick and choose which marriages it recognizes. Black has said the answer is probably no.

“This is not a complicated case,” Black wrote in his first opinion. “The issue is whether the State of Ohio can discriminate against same sex marriages lawfully solemnized out of state, when Ohio law has historically and unambiguously provided that the validity of a marriage is determined by whether it complies with the law of the jurisdiction where it was celebrated.”

Ohio may still ban marriage equality within its borders. But it doesn’t look like it will be able to void marriages that took place elsewhere. If that’s the federal ruling, it will have implications in the other 36 states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages. And for that, we would have John Arthur and Jim Obergefell to thank.