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A federal judge’s declaration that he will order the State of Ohio to recognize same-sex weddings legally performed in other states is a vital next step toward the full marriage equality our state requires. But it still appears likely that Ohio citizens, rather than the courts or state government, will have to make the final decision to abolish the discriminatory prohibition of same-sex marriage that voters approved a decade ago.
Late last week, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black, who is based in Cincinnati, said he plans to issue his order next Monday. He properly concluded that the state’s recognition ban unconstitutionally denies gay couples “their fundamental right to marry a person of their choosing and the right to remain married.” That ruling deserves to be upheld over inevitable legal challenges.
The current case arises from a lawsuit filed by four Ohio same-sex couples who seek to be designated as married parents on their children’s birth certificates. Judge Black previously ruled that the death certificate of a Ohio gay man who died last year had to list his husband as his surviving spouse; the state is appealing that ruling.
Unlike a federal court ruling last month in Michigan, Judge Black’s announcement did not indicate that he will order Ohio to permit same-sex couples to marry within the state. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Court rulings that overturned gay-marriage bans in five other states, and rulings in two states that struck down prohibitions on recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, are on hold while they are appealed.
Judge Black’s limited decision on recognition already is attracting resistance. The office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says it will challenge the judge’s order. Lawyers for the state argue that official enforcement of “the traditional definition” of marriage in Ohio is a matter of preserving “the democratic process.”
Gov. John Kasich supported the 2004 amendment to the Ohio Constitution, enacted by voters, that defines marriage as “a union between one man and one woman.” A spokesman for the governor said last year that Mr. Kasich “opposes gay marriage.”
Despite the startling changes in the national landscape on the issue since then, Mr. Kasich provides no indication that he has changed his mind. And even if he did, it hardly seems likely that the reactionary General Assembly would vote to legalize same-sex marriage — especially in an election year.
So the best bet for securing marriage equality in Ohio remains voter approval of a ballot initiative that would repeal the constitutional ban. Gay-rights activists continue to debate whether the state’s voters are ready to enact such a proposal this year.
That remains a crucial issue to be resolved. But Judge Black’s order should advance the discussion positively.
Legalization of same-sex marriage is an affirmation of basic human freedom, fairness, and dignity, as well as economic and legal rights. It promotes responsible citizenship and family stability. Public opinion polls suggest it reflects the popular will, in Ohio and nationwide.
Ensuring marriage equality is the right thing to do. It’s past time for Ohio to do it.