The Buckeye State is inching closer to marriage equality.
Building off an earlier ruling that required Ohio to honor same-sex marriages on death certificates, a federal judge on Friday declared his intention to write another opinion mandating that the state treat all legally valid marriages the same, including those between gay people.
The forthcoming ruling, due by April 14, will stop short of allowing same-sex couples to marry in the state, but will extend all spousal rights and benefits to gay couples living in Ohio and married elsewhere. It marks the end of a major portion of the state’s 10-year-old amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one women, and perhaps the beginning of the end of the ban entirely.
“I intend to issue a declaration that Ohio's recognition bans, that have been relied upon to deny legal recognition to same-sex couples validly entered in other states where legal, violates the rights secured by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," said U.S. District Judge Timothy Black following closing arguments on Friday, the Associated Press reports. “[They're] denied their fundamental right to marry a person of their choosing and the right to remain married."
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. While Black’s ruling will directly impact the plaintiffs and other gay families like theirs, it will also carry broader implications beyond birth certificates.
“Our case asked for a ruling saying that Ohio’s ban on the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages should be ruled unconstitutional once and for all, so his ruling will have that scope,” said co-counsel Susan Sommer, director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, to msnbc. “It should mean that a couple who has a valid marriage license from out of state will have that marriage be given full respect in Ohio, for tax purposes, housing purposes, inheritance purposes … the whole shebang.”
In December, Judge Black delivered a narrow victory for marriage equality advocates, declaring it unconstitutional to leave out the names of same-sex spouses on death certificates when the couples were legally married outside of Ohio. It’s currently facing an appeal by state officials in the Sixth Circuit. Though Black’s earlier ruling was limited in effect, its language was sweeping, leading many to believe that Ohio could soon join 17 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay couples to wed legally. His upcoming ruling will likely invite more calls for the Buckeye State to fully legalize same-sex marriage.
But Lambda Legal pumped the brakes, saying it wouldn’t be challenging the remainder of the ban just yet.
“Let us savor the victory today, and we’ll be considering the next steps,” said Sommer.