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Federal Judge Recognizes Dying Ohio Man’s Gay Marriage

A same-sex couple of more than 20 years can now be buried together in an Ohio cemetery after a federal judge ruled to recognize the out-of-state marriage of the two men.

Frame of James Obergefell and John Arthur

James Obergefell and John Arthur, both 47, married earlier this month on an airport tarmac in Maryland- a state which began to recognize same-sex marriages in January of this year. The couple immediately flew back home to Cincinnati before Arthur’s health further deteriorated. The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Arthur was diagnosed two years ago with ALS, an incurable and progressive neurodegenerative disease.

Both men wish to be buried together in Arthur’s family plot, which is restricted to direct descendants and spouses. The couple sued Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, urging the state to recognize their union. U.S. District Judge Tim Black has ruled that Obergefell may be listed as Arthur’s surviving spouse.

“We’ve been beside each other for 20 years. We deserve to be beside each other in perpetuity,” Obergefell testified. The couple decided to get married because the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that denied gay couples many federal benefits.

“It’s huge,” said Obergefell on MSNBC’s The Last Word. “It’s something we never thought we would see in our lifetime. It just helps us feel more valid, more valued, and prouder to be Ohioans, prouder to be Americans.”

However, the limited and temporary restraining order supporting their request will not apply to any other couples in Ohio.

According to Black, Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage denies gay couples equal protection under the law. He noted that Ohio recognizes many out-of-state marriages not able to be performed in the state, such as those between first cousins and minors. “This is not a complicated case,” he stated, asking how Ohio can single-out same-sex marriages as ones the state will not recognize.

Furthermore, Black also referenced the recent Supreme Court ruling in his 15-page opinion:

“Under Supreme Court jurisprudence, states are free to determine conditions for valid marriages, but these restrictions must be supported by legitimate state purposes because they infringe on important liberty interests around marriage and intimate relations.

“In derogation of law, the Ohio scheme has unjustifiably created two tiers of couples: (1) opposite-sex married couples legally married in other states; and (2) same-sex married couples legally married in other states. This lack of equal protection of law is fatal.