Ohio Decision Chips Away at the State's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Ohio became the second state in a few days to find itself the subject of a federal ruling against a ban on same-sex marriages.

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Ohio became the second state in a few days to find itself the subject of a federal ruling against a ban on same-sex marriages.

Legally-married same-sex couples living in Ohio will have their marriages recognized on death certificates after a very narrow federal ruling on Monday. "Once you get married lawfully in one state, another state cannot summarily take your marriage away," the decision from District Court Judge Timothy S. Black reads. Black found that the U.S. Constitution's Due Process clause prohibits Ohio from refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states on death certificates.

Today's decision will only affect one narrow set of circumstances. It stems from a lawsuit filed by two gay men living in Ohio, both of whom had recently deceased spouses. The ruling doesn't effect, say, the state's standing refusal to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. However, Black's language, outside of his statements on what his decision will change, is pretty broad. For instance:

The question is presented whether a state can do what the federal government cannot – i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004). Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no. 

"When a state effectively terminates the marriage of a same-sex couple 
married in another jurisdiction," Black adds,  "it intrudes into the realm of private marital, family, and intimate relations specifically protected by the Supreme Court." Black dismissed Ohio's arguments against the couples by noting that:

Defendants have not provided evidence of any state interest compelling enough to counteract the harm Plaintiffs suffer when they lose, simply because they are in Ohio, the immensely important dignity, status, recognition, and protection of lawful marriage.

That language, it seems, could enable more legal challenges to the state's ban. But Ohio might not have to wait for more lawsuits, as a somewhat surprising development out of Utah could eventually result in an even broader decision. On Friday, a federal judge struck down the entirety of Utah's same-sex marriage ban, throwing the heavily-Mormon state into something of a limbo on the issue. Because the federal judge declined to place a stay on his decision to allow the marriages to go forward. As a result,  same-sex couples were able to get married more or less instantly — at least in some counties.

Those marriages will continue in the near future, but the final status of the state's laws remains up in the air as Utah's attorney general has promised to appeal. The Utah case centers around questions of equal protection and due process, similar to what was seen in the recent legal challenge to California's Proposition 8. And while the Supreme Court's decision in that case only affected California, Utah's case seems to be an opportunity for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of state-level same sex marriage bans.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.