Federal judge orders Ohio to respect all marriages on death certificates

On Monday, December 23, federal judge Timothy Black issued a ruling declaring that the state of Ohio must respect marriages between same-sex couples on death certificates issued by the state. 

The ruling, which found that Ohio laws banning same-sex couples from marrying are unconstitutional, applies only to the issuance of death certificates. It applies to all married same-sex couples in Ohio who want to be listed on the death certificates of their spouses. The ruling declares:

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, if valid in the state performed, and even if not authorized or validly performed under Ohio law ... That is, once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot take your marriage away, because the right to remain married is properly recognized as a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution. 

Freedom to Marry's National Campaign Director Marc Solomon applauded the ruling. He said:

Today’s ruling in federal district court in Ohio powerfully affirms the principle that states cannot pick and choose which legal marriages legally are honored and respected. While this ruling only applies to death certificates in Ohio, it’s a strong demonstration that a marriage patchwork is unsustainable and that the freedom to marry must be affirmed nationwide, as soon as possible.

The case, Obergefell v. Kasich, dates back to July 2013, when Judge Black ruled in favor of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, a Cincinnati couple who have been together for 20 years. James and John made the journey from Ohio to Maryland so they could legally marry as John neared the end of his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The couple then sued for respect for their marriage. Watch full video from their moving ceremony HERE.

In his July 2013 decision, Judge Black issued a temporary restraining order to preemptively allow the death certificate to list John as Jim's spouse. Judge Black wrote, “There is insufficient evidence of a legitimate state interest to justify this singling out of same sex married couples given the severe and irreparable harm it imposes."

In September, Judge Black also granted a temporary restraining order to widower David Mechener from Cincinnati so that his marriage license from Delaware to his late husband William Herbert Ives could be respected on the death certificate. 

On August 27, Ives unexpectedly passed away of natural causes. In order for the cremation of his remains to proceed, the state must issue a death certificate. When Michener sought a death certificate listing him as the married "surviving spouse" of his partner of 18 years, he was denied because Ohio does not respect the couple's marriage. 

In October, John Arthur passed away. His death is a loss to the LGBT community, and we continue to wish our deepest condolences to his beloved, Jim, as well as his friends, family members, and everyone who admired his courage and advocacy this year and in years prior.

Learn more about Obergefell v. Kasich in Freedom to Marry's Litigation Center