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Judge Grants Restraining Order In Gay Marriage Case
A federal judge Monday granted a same-sex couple's request to be listed as married on a death certificate opening the door for other couples to challenge Ohio's ban on gay marriage.
John Arthur and Jim Obergefell have been a couple for 20 years. They flew to Maryland earlier this month and were married. John has ALS and has days - possibly weeks at the latest to live. The couple wants John to be listed as married on his death certificate and Jim listed as his surviving spouse.
"When your spouse passes away, do you want your marriage recognized? Or when you pass away, do you want your spouse to have your marriage recognized? That's why it's important to me," Obergefell said Monday following a hearing at the Potter Stewart Federal Courthouse.
Arthur and Obergefell had asked Judge Timothy Black to grant a temporary restraining order to allow John's death certificate to read married. Their attorney, Al Gerhardstein, argued that Ohio recognizes marriages performed in other states that are prohibited in Ohio, such as marriages of first cousins and minors. Gehardstein also cited the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last month that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
In a 15-page ruling, Judge Timothy Black wrote "this is not a complicated case." Black cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision and wrote "By treating lawfull same sex marriages differently than it treats lawful opposite sex marriages, Ohio law, as applied to these plaintiffs, likely violates the United States Constitution which guarantees that "No State shall make or enforce any lawy which shall... deny to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws."
"We all view this as a major step on the march toward marriage equality in Ohio," Gerhardstein said.
The couple filed suit against Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Dr. Camille Jones of the City of Cincinnati Department of Vital Statistics to have their marriage recognized. Attorney Bridget Coontz from DeWine's office said the case was "sympathetic" and "difficult." Coontz argued no other court had granted such a TRO and the couple failed to prove they had been irreparably harmed by the state's ban on gay marriage. Coontz also told Judge Black that changes could be made at a later date to the death certificate if the state's stance on gay marriage changed.
"This is not the end of the game here. It's one decision and the Judge issued his decision which we certainly respect," Mike DeWine told Local 12 News.
He added, The matter will ultimately be decided by the judge on the merits. And we look forward to that argument. My job as Attorney General is to follow the will of the people."
While more decisions will follow on the case, Al Gerhardstein believes the case could set a precedent for other gay couples.
"All of those people are entitled to rely on Judge Black's order, in terms of the likelihood of success, say that their marriages should be recognized and file for an injunction," Gerhardstein said.
Arthur and Obergefell will file additional paper work with the court in a couple of weeks seeking to extend the restraining order or request a permanent injunction. If the couple wins the case, their marriage would be recognized as valid in Ohio and they could enjoy benefits such as filing a joint tax return. Either side is expected to appeal a final decision.
Ohio voters passed the ban on same-sex marriage in 2004. 12 states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.