By Jim Provance
The state will appeal Monday’s federal court decision striking down part of Ohio’s ban on gay marriage when it comes to recognizing marriages legally performed in other states.
U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black in Cincinnati stressed that his ruling does not mean that same-sex couples may wed in Ohio. But his decision strikes a blow against another portion of the constitutional amendment that Ohioans adopted in 2004 that prohibits government from extending rights approximating those of marriage to same-sex and unmarried couples.
Judge Black's decision was good news for Jackie and Kristina Quinones of Toledo, who were married March 29 in Chicago. “It’s recognition for us because now we have all the same freedoms and equality as other couples,” said Kristina.
Kristina said she had struggled to officially change her last name after the marriage. Her maiden name is Wyscaver, but because she is now going to be a stepmother to Jackie’s two children, she feels the family should all have the same last name. This court decision will make it possible for her to just “take my documents to the license bureau and show my marriage certificate,” she said.
“I’m very excited about this court ruling. It means I can protect my family and keep them safe,” said Jackie, who has an 8-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and custody of her 15-year-old niece. She expressed relief in knowing that if something every happens to her, her wife, Kristina, will now have the legal right to make decisions for the children.
“We don't want to redefine marriage, we just want to be included,” she said.
The case before Judge Black initially dealt with the issue of having the names of both spouses in a same-sex marriage, which was legally performed in another state, listed on the birth certificates of children born here. But Judge Black, a 2010 appointee by President Obama, went a step further by ordering the state to recognize all marriages that have been legally performed.
Judge Black wrote that the state’s defense “is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the state’s ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and, therefore, Ohio’s marriage recognition bans are facially unconstitutional and unenforceable under any circumstances.”
Judge Black had promised the decision more than a week ago. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has said he will appeal the decision, as he did a prior ruling from the judge that required the state to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates.
The latest case was brought by four couples married in California, New York, and Massachusetts who have had or soon expect to have children in Ohio. Three are female couples in which one spouse was impregnated through artificial insemination while the fourth is a male couple who adopted a child born here.
Judge Black ruled that Ohio’s ban violates the couples’ 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.
“Without a permanent injunction and declaratory relief, the affected same-sex couples and their children would have to continue to navigate life without the birth certificates that pave the way through numerous transactions, large and small,” Judge Black wrote. “They would needlessly suffer harmful delays, bureaucratic complications, increased costs, embarrassment, invasions of privacy, and disrespect.
“Same-sex couples’ legal status as parents will be open to question, including in moments of crisis when time and energy cannot be spared to overcome the extra hurdles Ohio’s discrimination erects,” he wrote.
The court stayed its order as both sides argue over whether it should be kept on pause indefinitely pending appeals. But Judge Black wrote in a footnote that he is “inclined” not to delay the decision as it affects the four plaintiff couples.
“We are thrilled with the decision,” said Mike Premo, campaign manager for Why Marriage Matters Ohio, an organization working on a public awareness campaign in anticipation of its own constitutional amendment vote in 2016 to overturn the ban.
“Thanks to Judge Black, all married couples will be equally treated under the law. …,” he said. “We are calling on the attorney general not to appeal this historic ruling, which would just delay the inevitable and be a waste of tax dollars and an injustice to the families being denied the legal recognition they deserve.”
Gov. John Kasich has voiced support for Mr. DeWine’s decision to appeal the ruling. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the leading Democratic candidate to oppose the governor in November, and former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper, Mr. DeWine’s likely opponent, both voiced support for the ruling.
Ohio is one of a number of states with same-sex marriage cases in the appeals pipeline with at least one likely to work its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court voted 5-4 last year to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act affecting the federal government.
But it left the question at the state level unresolved when, without ruling on the substance of the case, it let stand a California ruling striking down that state’s ban.
“I’ve talked to judges and lawyers, and nobody has heard of a judge telling everyone 10 days ahead of time how he’s going to rule,” said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, the Cincinnati-based organization that spearheaded the 2004 vote.
“It’s all about politics and legislating from the bench,” he said. “He will be overturned by the 6th Circuit [Court of Appeals] when the case is appealed by Mike DeWine.”
Meanwhile, Mr. DeWine on Monday certified a revised proposed constitutional amendment that seeks to overturn the ban even as the group behind it claims to have enough signatures to qualify the original for the November ballot.
The organization FreedomOhio will hit the streets to gather signatures for its second proposed amendment. The revised amendment further defines a “religious house of worship,” which would not be forced to perform same-sex marriages. The new wording also adds the requirement that “all legally valid marriages” be treated equally.
The revisions occur even as the gay-rights community remains divided over whether enough has changed in Ohio since the 2004 vote to make this year the right time to put the question to voters.
While FreedomOhio is looking at the 2014 or 2015 ballot, Why Marriage Matters Ohio wants to wait until the 2016 presidential election.
Staff writer Marlene Harris-Taylor contributed to this report.
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