Judge to declare Ohio’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional
(CNN) — Ohio will soon join the list of states that have current bans on same-sex marriage tossed out, after a federal judge on Friday signaled he will declare the current law unconstitutional.
“I intend to issue a written decision and order by April 14 striking down as unconstitutional under all circumstances Ohio’s ban on recognizing legal same-sex marriages from other states,” said Judge Timothy Black, according the Cincinnati-based court.
A hearing was held Friday where lawyers for several same-sex couples asked the judge to strike down on equal protection grounds all aspects of the state’s ban on recognizing gay and lesbian couples being legally wed elsewhere. The judge– a 2010 appointee of President Barack Obama– announced from the bench he would do so and said an official written ruling would come by April 14.
The decision for now does not apply to homosexual couples who seek to marry in Ohio. State officials had argued it was the right of the state and its citizens to define marriage. There was no immediate reaction on the latest developments from Mike DeWine, the state’s attorney general, but an appeal is expected.
Marriage equality advocates cheered the judge’s action.
“Today’s decision will make a real difference to legally married gay Ohio couples, affirming that their home state may not deny them and their families legal protections and the basic dignity of treating them as what they are: married,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry.
“This common-sense and constitutional ruling adds to the momentum across the country in favor of the freedom to marry.”
Ohio’s current ban was passed by voters a decade ago.
In February of 2004, President George W. Bush announced support for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
In the election that November, voters in Ohio and ten other states passed constitutional amendments defining marriage as being between a man and a woman only.
Sixty-two percent of Ohioans voted in favor of the constitutional amendment. The push to put the issue on the ballot in the Buckeye State was seen as a move by the Republican Party to drive conservative voters to the polls to help re-elect Bush. Then-Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential challenger in 2004, conceded to Bush the day after Election Day after the president narrowly captured Ohio.
According to a Quinnipiac University survey conducted in February, 50% of Ohio voters backed legalizing same-sex marriage, with 44% opposed to making same-sex marriage legal.
This latest decision adds legal and political momentum to the issue following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision last June ruling unconstitutional key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined for federal purposes marriage as only between one man and one woman. It meant legally married gay and lesbian couples could now enjoy a range of benefits including tax breaks.
The justices didn’t go as far as saying that all states must allow such marriages to take place within their borders, but a number of lower federal courts have since stepped into the fray.
Since last summer, federal and state courts in Kentucky, Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, New Jersey, and Michigan have separately struck down similar bans on same-sex marriage. There are more than 47 same-sex marriage lawsuits pending in about two dozen states.
A federal appeals court in Denver will be next to hold arguments on Utah’s prohibition, a constitutional challenge that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court for final review by year’s end. That could present the monumental question of whether gay marriage is a constitutional right that would apply to all states, including the more than 30 with current bans.
Hawaii, California and Illinois are among the states that have begun issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples in the past year.
Judge Black’s ruling Friday came after a narrower decision last December, when he ordered Ohio to recognize legal same-sex marriages on death certificates.
Two gay men had originally sued the state last year after their separate partners had recently died. Both wanted the death certificates to list they were legally wed in other states.
The consolidated lawsuit also includes three legally-married lesbian couples who want their names listed on birth certificates of their children, who will be born in coming months.
The Ohio case is Henry v. Wymyslo (14-cv-129).
CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report