Ohio must treat all legally valid marriages equally – including those between gay people – a federal judge ruled Monday, striking down a major portion of that state’s ban on same-sex nuptials.
The decision stopped short of allowing gay couples to actually wed in the Buckeye State, but marks what could be a significant step toward achieving full marriage equality there. Those living in Ohio who married elsewhere will be eligible to receive all spousal rights and benefits given to any married, heterosexual couple.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black indicated two weeks ago that he would strike down Ohio’s recognition ban, finding that it violated the Constitution’s guarantee to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. At the end of last year, Black issued a separate, more narrow ruling requiring Ohio to honor same-sex nuptials on death certificates.
The lawsuit was filed in February on behalf of several gay couples, married out of state, who wanted Ohio officials to include both parents’ names on the birth certificates of their children. Because the state did not recognize their marriages, it was only offering to include the names of one parent in each family.
State officials are planning to appeal Black’s ruling on the grounds that Ohio has a right to define its own marriage laws. Voters enacted the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex nuptials in 2004.
Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marriage equality over the last decade, with more almost certain to follow. Since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a federal law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman, eight district judges have overturned all or part of state bans on same-sex nuptials. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last week in a challenge to Utah’s ban–the first time a marriage equality suit has gone before the appellate level. The same court will also hear arguments this week in a challenge to Oklahoma’s ban.