Ohio Marriage Recognition Suit Expanded

A federal judge agreed to expand a pending lawsuit that aims to mandate Ohio's health department, coroners, and funeral directors to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages as legal on a partner's death certificate.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

September 26 2013 2:42 PM ET

John Arthur and Jim Obergefell

A pending federal lawsuit aiming to force the Ohio health department to recognize legally married same-sex couples on each partner's death certificate was expanded on Wednesday to include all same-sex couples in Ohio who legally married in another state, where one partner recently died or is terminally ill, reports the Associated Press.

Attorneys for two couples who initially filed suit asked federal district judge Timothy Black to expand the suit to encompass all similarly situated couples in Ohio, requesting that the judge order state coroners and funeral directors to list gay and lesbian clients as married if the couple was legally married in another state. On Wednesday, Black approved that request, according to the AP. 

The expansion comes after Black ruled in favor of two gay couples this summer in separate cases suing the state for the right to be recognized as legally married on a death certificate. The state is appealing that decision, and Wednesday's ruling effectively combines the distinct cases into a single, broader class-action suit. 

In July, Black ruled that Ohio must recognize the marriage of John Arthur and James Obergefell, who flew to Maryland to marry earlier that month because Arthur is terminally ill with ALS. The newlywed couple sued the state of Ohio in an effort to require the state coroner to list Arthur as married on his death certificate and list Obergefell as Arthur's surviving spouse. On July 22, Black used no uncertain terms in finding in the couple's favor, writing that "this is not a complicated case," and ordering the Ohio registrar — and by extension, the state itself — to recognize the legal marriage between Arthur and Obergefell.  

In September, Black also ruled that Ohio must recognize the marriage of another gay couple after one spouse died unexpectedly in late August. David Michener of Cincinnati will be listed as the spouse of William Herbert Ives on Ives's death certificate, Black ruled. The couple, together for 18 years, married in Delaware this summer, after raising three children together. Ives died August 27. 

Ohio voters amended their state constitution in 2004 to deny marriage rights to gay couples, though Black's ruling in the Arthur-Obergefell case determined that the state law "likely violate[s] the U.S. Constitution … by treating lawful same-sex marriages differently than it treats opposite-sex marriages."

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