Judge rules for Ohio same-sex couple John Arthur and James Obergefell

4:14 PM, Jul 23, 2013   |    comments
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"I'm overjoyed, in love, and so thankful." John Arthur, an ALS patient and Jim Obergefell, partners for more than 20 years, were married on a medical plane in Maryland following the Supreme Court ruling that allows for official recognition of gay marriage.



(Cincinnati.com) -- James Obergefell has lived with the love of his life for 20 years before they married two weeks ago.

They also hoped to be buried next to each other, to spend eternity together, but the state of Ohio and his spouse's relatives won't let him - because he married another man, John Arthur.

Last week, the two men sued Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Cincinnati doctor responsible for approving death certificates. Obergefell and Arthur asked a judge to overturn existing Ohio law - which doesn't recognize same-sex marriage - to allow Obergefell to be listed as surviving spouse on Arthur's death certificate and for it to show that Arthur's marital status at death as married.

That's what U.S. District Magistrate Judge Tim Black did late Monday afternoon, granting a temporary restraining order - but noting it was specific to Obergefell and Arthur only.

Without that official designation as Arthur's spouse, Obergefell told Black, he won't be able to be buried with him in Spring Grove Cemetery. Arthur's family plots are in that cemetery and his grandfather previously stipulated in documents that only the family's direct descendents and their spouses can be buried in the family plot. With Black's ruling, Obergefell can be buried next to Arthur.

"We've been beside each other for 20 years. We deserve to be beside each other in perpetuity," Obergefell testified Monday.

Arthur has ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that has no known cure and is fatal, and is "days maybe weeks if we are lucky" from death, Obergefell testified.

"What he wants is to die knowing that I am legally taken care for and recognized as his spouse," Obergefell said of Arthur, both 47.

The couple flew to Maryland July 11 and were married on an airport tarmac before immediately flying back to Cincinnati. The Enquirer chronicled their story and wedding ceremony in a story, photos and video.

Al Gerhardstein, the attorney for the two husbands, argued that Ohio should recognize same-sex marriages from other states because it recognizes opposite-sex marriages from other states, including some that are banned in Ohio like first cousins or too young people marrying.

Black found that the Ohio Constitution on the issue "violates rights secured by the ... United States Constitution in that same-sex couples married in jurisdictions where same sex marriages are valid who seek to have their out-of-state marriage accepted as legal in Ohio are treated differently than opposite sex couples who have been married in states where their circumstances allow marriage in that state but not in Ohio."

Bridget Coontz, representing the governor and attorney general, argued that death certificates can be changed later if laws change to allow gay marriage, adding this case is far more about gay marriage rights in Ohio and less about death certificates.

Gerhardstein, while acknowledging Black's ruling was specific to Obergefell and Arthur, said this is the beginning of what he expects will be more same sex couples seeking to have Ohio's ban on gay marriage overturned.

"I think this is going to open the door to create a large number of same sex couples married in other states" to try to change the law, Gerhardstein said.

If enough same sex couples petition courts for similar rulings, the issue may have to go back before voters or be changed by lawmakers, Gerhardstein said.

Aaron Herzig, an attorney for the city, said the city doesn't oppose the request by Obergefell and Arthur. The city named July 11, the day the two men were married in Maryland, as James Obergefell and John Arthur Day in Cincinnati.

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