Ohio Out-of-State Gay Union Recognition Gets Judge’s Nod

Ohio’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from other states probably will be reversed, a federal judge said, continuing a judicial trend of upholding gay people’s right to be married under the U.S. Constitution.

“The court anticipates striking down as unconstitutional under all circumstances Ohio’s bans on recognizing legal same-sex marriages from other states,” U.S. District Judge Timothy Black said on the court’s electronic docket yesterday.

His ruling will follow those of U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in Louisville, Kentucky, who decreed in February that his state must recognize out-of-state same-sex unions and Nashville, Tennessee, federal judge Aleta A. Trauger, who cited Heyburn’s ruling last month when she ordered that state to temporarily recognize three gay couples’ out-of-state marriages.

Gay marriage is now legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Decisions that struck down bans in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Michigan are on hold during appeals, as is the Heyburn ruling. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver will take up the Utah case on April 10 and Oklahoma on April 17, and a federal appellate court in Richmond, Virginia, will hear arguments over that state’s ban on May 13.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, in a statement issued yesterday, said he’d ask the federal appeals court in Cincinnati to expedite its review of U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman’s March 21 decision in Detroit.

Full Court

Schuette said he has asked the court to skip an initial hearing before a three-judge panel and instead convene a hearing before all 15 of its judges.

Any or all of those appeals court cases might ultimately be accepted for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The sooner we reach a final resolution from the courts, the better,” Schuette said.

Black, the Cincinnati trial judge, earlier yesterday heard arguments from both sides in a case in which four Ohio same-sex couples sued for the right of each spouse to be listed on their children’s birth certificates.

When he does issue a ruling, which he said will happen by April 14, it will be the second time the 2009 nominee of Democratic President Barack Obama has found in favor of recognizing legal rights of gay couples in that state.

In a separate case in December, the judge ordered Ohio to recognize gay couples legally wed out of state when issuing a death certificates.

Equal Protection

Heyburn, Trauger and Black -- in his ruling in the death certificate case -- all traced their rationale to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in U.S. v. Windsor, in which the justices struck down a law limiting federal recognition to marriages of one man and one woman. The woman who sued in that case had a legal marriage in Canada before moving to New York.

“The definition of marriage has long been, and continues to be, a matter of state law,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said in a court papers opposing recognition of same-sex couples married out of state. “Ohio has decided to preserve the definition of traditional marriage.”

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the state will appeal if Black follows through on his stated intent. Ohio is already appealing the judge’s December ruling. Both decisions would be reviewed by the same court that will hear the Michigan appeal.

In ordering recognition of out-of-state gay marriages for death-certificate purposes, Black said they are important “not only for the dignity of the surviving spouse and his or her family, but also have evidentiary value for rights such as receiving life insurance payouts, claiming Social Security survivors’ benefits, administering wills and title transfers for automobiles, real estate and other property.”

The case is Henry v. Wymyslo, 14-cv-00129, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio (Cincinnati).

(Corrects date of Oklahoma appeal hearing in fourth paragraph of story published April 5.)
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