USA TODAY research; Janet Loehrke, USA TODAY
CINCINNATI — A federal judge said he will strike down Ohio's voter-approved ban on gay marriage, meaning the state must recognize marriages of gay couples who legally wed elsewhere.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black made the statement Friday following final arguments in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the marriage ban.
Black will issue the ruling April 14 prohibiting Ohio officials from enforcing the ban, which he contends violates constitutional rights of equal protection and due process. Black's ruling will not mean Ohio must allow couples to marry in the state.
Lawyers for the state had argued that it is Ohio's sole province to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
By announcing his intention ahead of his ruling, Black gives time for the state to prepare an appeal that can be filed as soon as he rules.
The ruling in a week and a half will follow a narrower ruling the judge made last year in which Ohio authorities were ordered to recognize gay marriages on death certificates.
In December, the judge wrote that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and that states cannot discriminate against gay couples simply because some voters don't like homosexuality.
"For the second time Judge Black has affirmed that the marriages of committed and loving same-sex couples must be recognized by the state of Ohio," said President Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign. "Since the Supreme Court's landmark marriage equality rulings last June, not a single state marriage ban has survived a federal court challenge.
"Black's December decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed in July by Jim Obergefell of Cincinnati and another gay Ohio man whose spouses recently died. Each wanted to be recognized on the spouses' death certificates as married. In Obergefell's case, John Arthur, his partner of more than 20 years, died in October just three months after they were legally wed in Maryland.
Ohio officials already have appealed that ruling. At that time, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage in Washington, said Black was "another example of a judge gone wild" and accused him of "making the law up out of thin air."
"The voters have already decided in Ohio," Brown said. "I trust that voters understand the profound consequences if you redefine marriage."
Almost 62% of voters approved the state constitutional amendment in 2004 that not only says marriage is a union of one man and one women but also prohibits the state from creating or recognizing a legal status for relationships of unmarried couples that approximates marriage.
Same-sex marriage advocates contend the amendment prevents committed couples from taking advantage of benefits such as joint filing of tax returns and family health insurance policies and also requires gay couples to contend with complicated legal paperwork to make sure they can take part in medical decisions and other milestones in life.
The coming ruling grew out of a lawsuit filed in February in which four same-sex couples sought to force the health departments of Ohio and Cincinnati to list the names of both same-sex parents on the birth certificates of their children. Three of the couples, who live in Ohio or Kentucky counties, are due to become parents in June with the deliveries scheduled to take place in Cincinnati.
As part of the lawsuit, lawyers for the couples asked the judge to broaden his look at the state's treatment of same-sex couples.
To date, 18 states, not including Ohio, have legalized same-sex marriage. Judges in several other states have said that their states must recognize gay marriages performed in other states.
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