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New lawsuit aims to strike down Ohio same-sex marriage ban

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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Civil rights attorneys Jennifer Branch, center left, and Lisa Meeks, center right, talk about the lawsuit they filed in federal court in Cincinnati seeking to strike down Ohio's gay marriage ban, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. They are surrounded by some of the gay couples who are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including, from left, Michelle Gibson, Mary Koehler, Karl Rece Jr., Gary Goodman, Ethan Fletcher and Ronny Beck.Amanda Lee Myers, AP

Civil rights attorneys Jennifer Branch, center left, and Lisa Meeks, center right, talk about the lawsuit they filed in federal court in Cincinnati seeking to strike down Ohio’s gay marriage ban, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. They are surrounded by some of the gay couples who are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including, from left, Michelle Gibson, Mary Koehler, Karl Rece Jr., Gary Goodman, Ethan Fletcher and Ronny Beck.

CINCINNATI — Civil rights attorneys filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a judge to strike down Ohio’s gay marriage ban as unconstitutional and allow same-sex couples to wed in the state, echoing arguments that have led judges to throw out gay marriage bans in five other states.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Cincinnati on behalf of six gay Ohio couples who say they are in love and want to get married.

“We are just like any other couple,” said Gary Goodman, who proposed to his longtime partner, Karl Rece Jr., in 2011 and is hoping to marry him on Christmas.

“We love each other dearly. I would die for him,” Goodman said. “We just want the simplest thing: We want to be able to marry here in Cincinnati, in the state of Ohio, and we want it to be something that we share with our friends and our family because it’s right.”

Longtime Cincinnati couple Karl Rece Jr., left, and Gary Goodman speak to media at a law firm in Cincinnati, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. They are among 12 plaintiffs named in a Wednesday lawsuit seeking to strike down Ohio's gay marriage ban and allow same-sex couples to marry in the state. Amanda Lee Myers, AP

Longtime Cincinnati couple Karl Rece Jr., left, and Gary Goodman speak to media at a law firm in Cincinnati, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. They are among 12 plaintiffs named in a Wednesday lawsuit seeking to strike down Ohio’s gay marriage ban and allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.

In this Wednesday, April 30, 2014, photo, civil rights attorney Jennifer Branch talks to media in Cincinnati on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Branch filed a lawsuit on behalf of six gay couples living in southwestern Ohio who say they are in love and want to get married. Amanda Lee Myers, AP

In this Wednesday, April 30, 2014, photo, civil rights attorney Jennifer Branch talks to media in Cincinnati on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Branch filed a lawsuit on behalf of six gay couples living in southwestern Ohio who say they are in love and want to get married.

Like other successful challenges to statewide marriage bans across the country, the attorneys who filed the lawsuit are arguing that Ohio’s ban, passed by voters in 2004, violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

“A consensus is finally emerging: the Constitution protects the right of consenting adults to love whoever they want,” the lawsuit says. “It is time for Ohio to do the same.”

Lisa Peterson Hackley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike DeWine, said in a statement that the office “is prepared to defend the state’s constitution and statutes regarding marriage.”

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich declined to comment “except to say that the governor believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, and he supports Ohio’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.”

Along with Wednesday’s lawsuit, attorneys are asking federal Judge Michael Barrett to issue a temporary restraining order forcing Ohio to issue marriage licenses to the couples named in the lawsuit, record their marriages and grant them same rights that other married couples in the state have.

Hackley said the attorney general’s office will ask the court to deny any requests for immediate action “to maintain the status quo while the case is being litigated.”

Wednesday’s lawsuit was filed by the same law firm that filed a February suit that led federal Judge Timothy Black to order Ohio to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

In his April 14 order, Black said Ohio’s refusal to recognize gay marriage is a violation of constitutional rights and “unenforceable in all circumstances.”

“The record before this court … is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the state’s ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” Black wrote.

His order stopped short of forcing Ohio to allow gay couples to wed in the state.

Although most of the ruling is on hold pending DeWine’s forthcoming appeal, Black did order Ohio to immediately recognize the marriages of the four couples by listing both spouses in each relationship on their children’s birth certificates.

In a similarly narrow order in December, Black ordered Ohio to recognize gay marriages on death certificates.

Separately from the flurry of court action, FreedomOhio is seeking to put gay marriage back on the Ohio ballot as early as November, asking voters to require that all legally valid marriages be treated equally under the law, while keeping clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

Phil Burress, who led the effort to ban same-sex marriage in Ohio, has said his group, Citizens for Community Values, is prepared to fight any ballot initiative to repeal the ban and is confident that appeals courts will overturn recent rulings across the country in favor of gay marriage.

Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and Washington, D.C. Federal judges recently have struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, though stays have been issued pending appeals.

Similar to Ohio’s ruling, judges in Kentucky and Tennessee have ordered state officials to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. Both those orders also have been put on hold.

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