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Lawsuit over same-sex marriage, death certificates expanded in Ohio

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

CINCINNATI — A lawsuit seeking to have the out-of-state marriages of two gay Ohio couples recognized on death certificates has been expanded to include all similarly situated couples, despite a statewide ban on gay marriage.

Attorneys are now asking federal Judge Timothy Black to require Ohio’s health department director to order funeral directors and coroners to list gay clients as married if they were legally wed in another state.

Judge Timothy Black

Judge Timothy Black

Black approved a request to expand the lawsuit on Wednesday and is expected to issue a ruling in December.

A spokeswoman for Ohio Department of Health Director Theodore Wymyslo did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

John Arthur and James Obergefell, both 47, are the couple who began the lawsuit. Arthur, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Obergefell sued in July to ensure that they can be buried next to each other in Arthur’s family plot, which is in a cemetery that only allows descendants and spouses.

A second couple, William Herbert Ives and David Michener, joined the lawsuit earlier this month after Ives died unexpectedly and Michener wanted him to be listed as married before he was cremated.

Black found in favor of both couples, saying they deserved to be treated with respect and that Ohio law historically has recognized out-of-state marriages as valid as long as they were legal where they took place, citing marriages between cousins and involving minors.

“How then can Ohio, especially given the historical status of Ohio law, single out same-sex marriages as ones it will not recognize?” Black wrote. “The short answer is that Ohio cannot.”

His ruling has sparked backlash from opponents of gay marriage, including state Rep. John Becker, a Union Township Republican who last week called for Black’s impeachment.

“The grounds are malfeasance and abuse of power,” Becker wrote in a letter to U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup in which he asked the congressman to begin impeachment proceedings. “Judge Black has demonstrated his incompetence by allowing his personal political bias to supersede jurisprudence.”

A woman who answered the phone at Black’s office said the judge was prohibited from commenting.

Only eight federal judges in history have been removed by Congress, most recently Judge G. Thomas Porteous of Louisiana in 2010 after he was accused of accepting cash and other favors from attorneys and bail bondsmen with business before his court.

Phil Burress, president of the Ohio-based anti-gay marriage group Citizens for Community Values, said the effort to get gay couples recognized on death certificates is just a roundabout way to get gay marriage declared legal in Ohio.

“Basically they’re trying to come through the back door,” he said. “Until they change it they have to obey the law. Marriage in the state of Ohio is between one man and one woman.”

Robert Grunn, a Cincinnati funeral director who is joining the lawsuit, said he wants to do what’s right.

“It’s making people more equal,” he said. “A time of death is very painful and you don’t want to have to exclude your loved ones on a certificate that’s meaningful to your family history.”

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9 more reader comments:

  1. Thank You Judge Timothy Black! Could you please talk to the judges in MO so that we may have the same right? We really need a little help getting there.

    Posted on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 4:58pm
  2. Share this to end LGBT discrimination, within our courts. Due to biases that have surfaced within the nez perce county court room The ALLY ROBLEDO trial was postponed, until thursday Oct. 17th recommended By the plaintiffs prosecutor which has an attempt to block, LGBT support in the courtroom. Please share this post to support Ally Robledo, and the LGBT community as she faces biases in rural Idaho.

    Replied on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 5:24am

    Replied on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 9:13am
  4. We here in Pa. could sure use “A LOT” of help!

    Posted on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 6:02pm
  5. Way to go Judge Black! Thank you for seeing this as an equality issue, not a gay issue.

    Posted on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 6:52pm
  6. If couples can be recognize by the state as married in death why not during life?

    Posted on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 9:04pm
  7. Love Is Love no matter what

    Posted on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 9:09pm
  8. We are so proud of Judge Black!

    Posted on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 4:15pm
  9. Yahoo. Progress

    Posted on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 7:24pm