Federal judge rules Ohio must recognize same-gender marriages

By MARC KOVAC @ohiocapitalblog mkovac@dixcom.com Published:

COLUMBUS -- A federal judge in Cincinnati sided with several gay couples Monday, ruling the state must recognize same-gender marriages conducted outside of Ohio.

Judge Timothy S. Black found that there was no "legitimate justification for the state's ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and, therefore, Ohio's marriage recognition bans are facially unconstitutional and unenforceable under any circumstances."

Black's decision was expected -- he announced the contents and filing date earlier this month. And the judge made it clear that the ruling "does not require Ohio to authorize the performance of same-sex marriage... Today's ruling merely requires Ohio to recognized valid same-sex marriages lawfully performed in states which do authorize such marriages."

Black noted that multiple federal rulings have already declared similar bans elsewhere on the recognition of gay marriage unconstitutional.

The Ohio case involves four same-gender couples who were married in out-of-state ceremonies and who want to put their spouses' names on birth certificates.

The latter is not allowed under the state's gay marriage ban, a constitutional amendment OK'd by voters in 2004.

Plaintiffs in the case argue that the Ohio Department of Health issued same-sex birth certificates for adopted children prior to January 2011, but that state policy was changed.

Three of the women involved are pregnant by means of artificial insemination and expected to give birth later this year. One male couple has an Ohio-born adopted son.

Black ruled in favor of the couples Monday, writing, "Identification on the child's birth certificate is the basic currency by which parents can freely exercise these protected parental rights and responsibilities. It is also the only common governmentally conferred, uniformly recognized, readily accepted record that establishes identity, parentage and citizenship, and it is required in an array of legal contexts."

The judge wrote that birth certificates are used by parents when registered children for school, making decisions about medical treatment, obtaining Social Security numbers, claiming dependents, seeking insurance coverage, for example.

He added, "The inability to obtain an accurate birth certificate saddles the child with the life-long disability of a government identity document that does not reflect the child's parentage and burdens the ability of the child's parents to exercise their parental rights and responsibilities."

Black also wrote that heterosexual couples who give birth by means of artificial insemination using anonymous donors routinely have their names included on birth certificates.

In a lengthy footnote, the judge issued a temporary stay, pending additional filings and court proceedings, but he did indicate he was not inclined delay his order for the same-sex couples named in the suit who are set to give birth.

Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine has already indicated plans to appeal the decision.

And backers of Ohio's gay marriage ban blasted Black's ruling. One Republican state lawmaker from the Cincinnati area has called for impeachment proceedings.

"The shockingly intolerant decision by federal Judge Black to invalidate the clear will of more than 3.3 million Ohio voters is egregious," Phil Burress, chairman of Citizens for Community Values, said in a released statement. "It's another example of homosexual activists using sympathetic judges and the courts as a blunt instrument to force a redefinition of marriage and family on the people of Ohio. It seems clear that when advocates of 'marriage equality' cannot convince the people and win at the ballot box, they resort to the courts and judicial fiat. But it's also clear that most Ohioans still understand that natural marriage has no equal."

But gay rights groups praised Black's decision.

"This is a landmark decision for Ohio's LGBT families because it proves that the Constitution exists to protect the rights of all Americans, regardless of who they love," Ian James, executive director of FreedomOhio, the group pursing a ballot issue to overturn the state's gay marriage ban, said in a released statement. "This ruling will allow same-gender couples legally married out-of-state to have their marriages recognized here in Ohio, a significant change we are all incredibly excited about."

Michael Premo, campaign manager for Why Marriage Matters Ohio, added in a separate statement, "This ruling is about love, stability and family; and it is a victory for the families that have been denied equality under the law. We thank Judge Black for his ruling, which is a great step in the right direction toward full marriage equality."

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