Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage was challenged by six gay couples as unconstitutional in a lawsuit that further expands nationwide litigation over an issue that is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since the high court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June, no state has successfully argued it has a “compelling interest or rational basis” for barring same-sex marriage, the couples said yesterday in a complaint filed in Cincinnati federal court. Gay-marriage proponents have prevailed in at least 10 state and federal lawsuits since September. Same-sex marriage is legal in 21 states, though stays are in place in four of those with appeals pending.
“A consensus is finally emerging: the constitution protects the right of consenting adults to love whoever they want,” the couples said in the complaint. “It is time for Ohio to do the same.”
Rulings by federal judges that struck down bans on gay marriage in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Michigan are on hold pending appeal, while attorneys general in at least six states have said they won’t defend bans in court.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, “is prepared to defend the state’s constitution and statutes regarding marriage,” which prohibit same-sex unions, his spokeswoman, Lisa Peterson Hackley, said in an e-mail.
A Texas federal judge issued a preliminary ruling in February holding that state’s ban unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver last month heard arguments on the Utah and Oklahoma bans.
Opponents of gay marriage have argued that changing the definition of marriage is a threat to children who are better off being raised by both a mother and a father.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black in Cincinnati last month rejected Ohio’s law against recognizing same-sex marriages that have been performed in other states. Black left the restriction in effect while his decision is appealed.
Last week, three gay couples sued in Atlanta federal court seeking to invalidate Georgia laws that ban gay marriages and prohibit recognition of such unions legally performed elsewhere.
Ohio’s ban denies gay couples equal protection under the law, including hospital visitation rights, adoption rights and access to the state’s welfare safety net and entitlement programs, the couples said in the lawsuit filed yesterday.
The complaint also cites the “unique social significance” of marriage, saying formal recognition of relationships is just as important to gay couples as it is to people in opposite-sex unions.
The plaintiffs in yesterday’s lawsuit include Heather Apple and Mary Koehler, who have been together for a decade and each gave birth to one of their two children, according to the complaint.
“They want their family to have the same legal and financial stability that opposite-sex married couples enjoy,” according to the complaint. “This is especially important because they are raising children together.”
Another couple, Andrew Hickam and Ethan Fletcher, who are both 29, said they want to get married in their home state so their elderly grandparents can attend without the hardship of traveling to a state where gay marriage is legal.
“It is important to Andrew and Ethan that they get married and not just have a commitment ceremony,” according to the complaint. “They want a marriage that is on equal terms with opposite-sex couples.”
The case is Gibson v. Himes, 14-cv-00347, U.S. District Court, District of Ohio (Cincinnati).