In a landmark court decision, a federal judge in Cincinnati has declared that Ohio cannot justify refusing to extend equal recognition to same-sex marriages performed in other states. State and local officials should follow this wise and compassionate ruling.
James Obergefell and John Arthur, a Cincinnati couple, were married in Maryland, where same-sex marriage is legal. Now that Mr. Arthur is dying, they want to list Mr. Obergefell as Mr. Arthur’s surviving spouse on his death certificate. Last week, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black granted the couple’s petition.
If the decision stands, Mr. Arthur and Mr. Obergefell, who have been partners for more than 20 years, will be permitted to be buried alongside each other and will see their union affirmed by their home state. But the broader implications of the ruling are even more important.
In his decision, Judge Black wrote that denying recognition to gay couples who were lawfully married in other states violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause. Because Ohio recognizes other types of marriages performed legally in other jurisdictions, such as marriages of minors, he said, the state must give gay couples the same recognition.
The decision “is one of the biggest steps that’s ever been taken toward marriage equality in Ohio,” said Grant Stancliff, a spokesman for the advocacy organization Equality Ohio, which seeks to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.
Many observers said the ruling may set a precedent for Ohio not only to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states but also to authorize same-sex marriage within its own borders. And it should.
Opponents of the decision, including Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, note that a strong majority of Ohioans voted in 2004 to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Since then, though, marriage equality has been gaining traction faster than perhaps any other social cause in America.
For example, polls taken after the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning last month of the federal Defense of Marriage Act suggest that most Ohioans now favor a repeal of the earlier ballot proposal that prohibits same-sex marriage.
“This is not a complicated case,” Judge Black wrote — an observation that just as aptly summarizes the cause of marriage equality in America. Ohioans largely favor marriage equality, but same-sex marriage, inside and outside Ohio, is too fundamental a question to be determined by majority vote.
Civil rights, including the right to marry, cannot be denied to minorities by a hostile majority. After the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act and Judge Black’s vindication of the rights of same-sex couples, there is no better time than now to extend these rights to all Ohioans.