The distance between Ohio and Utah is almost 1,500 miles, but court news Monday related to gay marriage brought the two states where Republicans control the legislative and executive branches of government together in ways that present exactly the kind of contrast some Democrats hope will bode well for them in next year's fall midterm elections.
Will what happens in Utah stay in Utah?
Ruling in Utah, the most religiously homogeneous state in the Union where about 63 percent of Utahns is reported to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS (Mormons), Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, declaring it unconstitutional, and then refused to stay his own ruling following a third challenge in two days to his Friday ruling. The State of Utah is expected to appeal Judge Shelby's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver.
In the time available to them before another higher court reverses of stays Shelby's decision, hundreds of same-sex couples rushed to say " I do" at Salt Lake City’s county courthouse.
The decision Friday represents the first time a federal court has ruled on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans since the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June. Marriage equality advocates and others believe it will act as a precedent for other states, like Ohio where a constitutional amendment would allow gay couples to marry and give churches the option to sanction these marriages could be on the fall ballot next year.
"This case could decide the issue of same-sex marriage across the United States of America,” Clifford Rosky, a University of Utah professor of law and expert on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender legal issues, told the Washington Post.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
Utah today, Ohio tomorrow?
In Ohio, where first-term anti-gay marriage Republican Gov. John R. Kasich hopes voters will rehire him despite three years of lackluster job creation efforts, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black ruled again in favor of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, the Cincinnati gay couple that sought recognition of their legal, out-of-state marriage on Mr. Arthur’s death certificate.
FreedomOhio, the largest Buckeye State LGBT equality organization with over 62,000 members, was excited about the ruling. Freedom Ohio co-founder and Executive Director Ian James regarding 's ruling:
"FreedomOhio applauds Judge Black's ruling today as yet another step in the right direction on the road to freedom for gay and lesbian couples throughout Ohio," James said in a statement Monday.
In his narrow ruling, Judge Black left in place the 2004 Ohio same-gender marriage ban. But his ruling was unequivocal that even though a majority of voters supported the ban in 2004, it still violates the U.S. Constitution.
James said that while the ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, his group will redouble its efforts to pass it's clear, concise and constitutionally sound 46-word Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment next November.
"With recent polling showing 56% of Ohio Voters supporting the amendment, we are certain voters will repeal and replace the 2004 marriage ban before the Supreme Court takes up the matter," he said.
FreedomOhio's amendment will allow same-gender couples to go to a courthouse and receive a marriage license, while also protecting and respecting the rights of houses of worship to choose whether or not to perform and/or recognize those marriages.
Responding to Black’s ruling today in Obergefell v. Wymyslo in the U.S. District Court-Southern District of Ohio, Ohio Democratic Party Deputy Communications Director Brian Hester, put a political spin on it.
"Today was a defeat of the Mike DeWine and Citizens for Community Values brand of Rick Santorum politics, and a victory for all Ohioans committed to equality under the law. Mike DeWine’s effort to seek to change the late John Arthur’s death certificate simply because it reflected his marriage to Jim Obergefell was a new low by DeWine in using the Attorney General's office to wage polarizing culture wars. Next November, Ohioans can elect a new Attorney General who will focus on cases important to them, and not waste time and tax dollars just to please the extreme elements of his and Governor Kasich’s political party.," Hester said in prepared remarks.
David Pepper, the Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General, also took advantage of the ruling. "The Attorney General's highest duty is to support the Constitution, and for this reason, Attorney General DeWine should stop his battle to deny Jim Obergefell and John Arthur the basic dignity and equality they successfully sought as John passed away," he said.
Pepper, a former Hamilton County Commissioner running for Attorney General next year against DeWine and an adjunct professor at University of Cincinnati’s Law School, teaching election law and voting rights, has based his campaign on increasing government transparency, strengthening local law enforcement and looking after state taxpayers.
Rather than continuing to fight to rescind, posthumously, a marriage that is now recognized on John Arthur’s death certificate, Pepper said it's "time for the Attorney General to live by his own words and allow the equal treatment here that the Constitution requires."
Sen. Brown seeks sharp contrasts with GOP
Ohio's senior U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown has said that the best chance for Democrats to retain the Senate and maybe even reclaim the House in Washington is to show a clear contrast between what Democrats support versus what Republicans support.
The dual court news today puts Republicans like Gov. Kasich, who barely favors civil unions at best for same-sex couples, in a risky position next year. As the tide grows among Americans, be they in ultra conservative Utah or right-of-center Ohio, to stand down on their former opposition to gay marriage or even to embrace it, GOP governors may find the going tough as people who come out to vote for same-sex marriage might not vote for those candidates who are on the wrong side of this argument.
Just as President George W. Bush's chances for a second term were enhanced by the constitutional ban on gay marriage that appeared on the 2004 Ohio ballot, Jame's same-sex amendment could have an equal but opposite impact on Kasich and other candidates whose opposition to it has been well known for a long time.
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