COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Democrat challenging Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is calling attention to the Republican’s ongoing fight against a deceased gay man whose last wish was to be counted as married on his death certificate.
David Pepper, a former Cincinnati councilman and former Hamilton County commissioner, said DeWine is putting politics and ideology ahead of the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 marriage decisions, and a Dec. 23 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Black that called the attorney general’s case “vague, speculative and unsubstantiated.”
A change.org petition started by Pepper’s campaign calls on DeWine to drop his planned appeal of Black’s order that Ohio recognize gay and lesbian couples’ out-of-state marriages on death certificates. Black called his ruling a limited one that doesn’t apply to the broader issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples.
“We call upon Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to uphold this duty and end his outrageous battle to deny Ohioans Jim Obergefell and John Arthur the basic dignity and equal protection they successfully sought as John passed away,” the petition reads.
Obergefell and Arthur, of Cincinnati, were married in July in a medical transport plane on an airport tarmac in Maryland. Arthur, who suffered from ALS, died in October after the couple won a temporary restraining order in federal court to prevent the state from listing him as unmarried on his death certificate.
DeWine spokesman David Tierney told Outlook that the attorney general intends to appeal Black’s ruling based on Ohio’s 2004 state constitutional amendment that allows only straight couples to marry.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last June said states still could decide on their own whether to recognize marriage equality.
Black’s ruling, however, said Ohio’s refusal to recognize marriages performed in other states — on death certificates, in this instance — was unconstitutional. The state still might be able to keep gay and lesbian couples from marrying in Ohio, but the judge said it can’t take away their right to remain married if they were legally united somewhere else.
Pepper said the attorney general’s oath is to defend the U.S. Constitution first, but DeWine has placed Ohio’s marriage ban above people’s federal constitutional rights.
“The state of Ohio is trying to eliminate from a person’s death certificate a valid marriage, trying to scrub from history this person’s marriage,” the Democrat told Outlook. “Aren’t there better things to do than that?”
Pepper supports marriage equality but said it’s DeWine who is letting politics cloud his legal judgment on the case. The Republican, whose campaign website uses the slogan “Protecting Ohio Families,” announced an appeal of Black’s ruling “before the ink was dry,” Pepper said.