December 23, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
Judge orders Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages for death certificates
National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

A federal judge has ruled the state must recognize same-sex marriage for the purposes of death certificates. Image via wikimedia)

A federal judge in Ohio has ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional — but only insofar as it prohibits the state from including the names of surviving same-sex spouses on death certificates.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Black ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Kasich that Ohio’s refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples that married in other jurisdictions violates their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The Court’s ruling today is a limited one, and states simply, that under the Constitution of the United States, Ohio must recognize valid out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples on Ohio death certificates, just as Ohio recognizes all other out-of-state marriages,” Black writes.

Although the lawsuit against the same-sex marriage ban was an as-applied challenge to the lawsuit, the ruling will apply to all married same-sex couples for the purposes of death certificates throughout the state. The court ordered the state to communicate its ruling to “all persons within Ohio who assist with completing Ohio death certificates.”

The case was filed by a now widower, James Obergefell, whose spouse, John Arthur, suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease and died in October. Prior to his death, the couple flew from Ohio in a specifically fitted aircraft to BWI Airport in Maryland to exchange vows on the tarmac before returning to Cincinnati on the same day.

They then sued in the state federal court for recognition in time for Obergefell’s name to appear on Arthur’s death certificate. Black ordered the state to recognize the marriage through a temporary restraining order.

Since that time, another widower, David Michener, also joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit and sought to have his name on the death certificate of his deceased spouse, who previously died unexpectedly of natural causes. Black also granted them recognition of their marriage through a temporary restraining order.

Plans are already underway for state officials — Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike Dewine — to appeal the decision to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesperson said, “We disagree with the court’s ruling and the state will appeal it.”

Lisa Hackley, a Dewine spokesperson, said the decision was made after internal deliberation within the Kasich administration.

“Following the judge’s decision, we have consulted with our client, Director Theodore E. Wymyslo, M.D. of the Ohio Department of Health,” Hackley said. “Following our client’s wishes, we will appeal the decision to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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