Federal Judge Timothy Black, who sits on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, issued a ruling Monday guaranteed to spice up the November elections between Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage and Democrats who support it.
Judge Black ordered that Ohio must recognize out-of-state gay marriages. His ruling today trumps the state's 2004-passed constitutional amendment—DOMA or Defense of Marriage Act—that defines marriage as between one man and one women.
Judge Black's widely anticipated decision today, which was stayed immediately pending further briefing on the parties and appeals, means that Ohio law cannot not recognize marriages between same-sex couples who reside in Ohio after they were legally married in a state like Maryland and 16 others that allow such marriages.
This ruling is important this election year because it bolsters efforts underway this year to put marriage equality on the statewide ballot this November, when Democrats hope to unseat the Republicans elected in 2010 who hold them now. Chief among those Democratic candidates is Ed FitzGerald, a former FBI agent and mayor of Lakewood, Ohio, who has been endorsed by the Ohio Democratic Party to challenge incumbent Republican Governor John R. Kasich.
Gov. Kasich is not a supporter of same-sex marriage and doesn't like to talk about his stand on it. In fact, his position on the issue was tested in March of 2013, when Ohio U.S. Senator Rob Portman changed his opposition to gay marriage after his son said he was gay. Gov. Kasich said, "If people want to have civil unions and have some way to transfer their resources, I’m for that. I don’t support gay marriage."
A spokesman for Gov. Kasich made the governor's position clear: "The governor’s position is unchanged. He opposes gay marriage and opposes changing Ohio’s constitution to allow for civil unions."
Just as DOMA helped bring out Republican voters in 2004, who also voted for President George W. Bush, the Marriage Equality ballot initiative this year could do the same for FitzGerald and down-ticket Democratic candidates on Election Day in November.
For reasons related to the family values of his GOP voter base, Gov. Kasich doesn't like to talk about gay marriage. So it's no surprise he said he supports Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's promise to appeal the judges ruling. Kasich and DeWine argue that Ohio has a sovereign right to ban gay marriage that were outlawed in 2004, the year Buckeye voters passed DOMA.
Quick to comment on Judge Black's marriage equality ruling today, FitzGerald issued this statement: "Today’s ruling begins to open the door to full marriage equality in Ohio, and I look forward to the day when Ohioans who love one another do not have to leave the state to get married. It is unfortunate, however, that rather than embrace this historical moment, Governor Kasich has decided to stand in the way of full equality for all Ohioans. As Governor, I will support marriage equality and work to move Ohio forward for all its residents. Government shouldn't be telling Ohioans who they can love and commit themselves to."
Judge Black's ruling, specific to Ohio only, now gives gay couples the right to obtain the same benefits as any other married couple in the state, including property rights and the right to make some medical decisions for their partner. It will still be illegal, though, for gay marriages to be performed.
The AP reported that AG DeWine, who is also running for a second term this year, believes marriage is between a man and woman and that Ohio voters decided the issue when they passed the statewide gay marriage ban in 2004.
"My job as attorney general is to defend statutes and defend Ohio's constitutional provisions," DeWine told the AP. "This was voted on by voters so my job is to do that." DeWine offered no speculation on what the outcome of the state's appeal will be or the future of gay marriage rights as a whole.
"Every state is having a lively debate over this and I think that's a proper thing to do," he again told the AP. "I think it's pretty obvious that all these issues are going to be resolved by the 6th Circuit and some cases are going to get to the Supreme Court. They're going to have a decision in the United States Supreme Court and we're all going to have to accept that."
Pushing back on DeWine's logic on popular votes, Judge Black observed in his ruling: "given that all practicing attorneys, as well as the vast majority of all citizens in this country, are fully aware that unconstitutional laws cannot stand, even when passed by popular vote, Defendant’s repeated appeal to the purportedly sacred nature of the will of Ohio voters is particularly specious."
David Pepper, Democratic Candidate for Ohio Attorney General, was at the ready with his statement: "An Attorney General’s first duty is to defend US Constitution and the constitutional rights of Ohioans,” Pepper said. “As this ruling recognizes, there is simply no valid constitutional argument for denying recognition of legal, out-of-state marriages. Enough is enough, and it’s time for Mike DeWine to stop his crusade against these Ohio families and their right to equal protection under the law."
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said, "Today’s ruling by Judge Black is not only a small, but important, milestone in the fight for marriage equality, but a reminder that our State constitution was created to protect the rights of Ohio families, not deny them. Governor Kasich has a long history of opposing same-sex marriage, and it is far past time for him and Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop their crusade on Ohio families who deserve equal and fair treatment in our state."
Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and Washington, D.C. Federal judges recently have struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, though stays have been issued pending appeals, according to published reports. Judges in Kentucky and Tennessee have likewise ordered state officials to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. The Kentucky decision has been stayed pending appeal, while Tennessee's ruling applies to only three couples.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that a civil rights attorney who has filed three gay marriage lawsuits in Ohio since June has said more gay couples who want to win the right to marry in Ohio are coming forward, which signals that another new lawsuit on their behalf aimed at striking down Ohio's gay marriage ban entirely is likely.