A federal judge in Ohio on Monday ordered state officials to recognize the marriage of a gay couple that was performed in Maryland on the death certificate of one of the men who is terminally ill, noting that he “is certain to die soon.”
U.S. District Magistrate Timothy Black granted a temporary restraining order Monday afternoon prohibiting the health department registrar from issuing a death certificate for John Arthur, who is dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, that does not list him as being married.
The death certificate must also list James Obergefell as the surviving spouse, the judge ruled.
Obergefell and Arthur of Cincinnati filed suit Friday in Cincinnati against Ohio’s governor, attorney general and the registrar who files death certificates.
Earlier this month, the two men flew from Cincinnati and married on an airport tarmac in Baltimore after receiving donations from friends, family and other connections to cover the cost of a $12,700 chartered, medically-equipped private plane.
The couple wants Arthur’s eventual death certificate to show his status as married, and for purposes including being able to be buried next to each other in an Arthur family plot that allows only descendants and spouses.
“The end result here and now is that the local Ohio Registrar of death certificates is hereby ordered not to accept for recording a death certificate for John Arthur that does not record Mr. Arthur’s status at death as ‘married’ and James Obergefell as his ‘surviving spouse,’” Black wrote in his ruling.
The couple has been together for more than 20 years, and now Arthur has only weeks to live.
ALS is a progressive neurological disease that robs patients of their ability to walk, talk and eventually breathe. There is no known cure or treatment that halts or reverses the disease.
“We want nothing more than for our marriage to count in the place we call home,” Obergefell said in a statement. “When (Arthur) dies, his death certificate should reflect our marriage just like the records of all the other married couples in Ohio.”
Though Black’s temporary restraining order supporting their death certificate request was specific to the couple’s case, opponents of Ohio’s ban on gay marriage were encouraged by it.
“This is going to open the door to create a large number of same-sex couples married in other states” to try to change the law, said the couple’s attorney, Al Gerhardstein.