John Arthur, the terminally ill man who flew from Cincinnati to Maryland in July to marry his longtime partner on an airport tarmac, died this week of complications associated with Lou Gehrig’s disease at age 48. His action this summer sparked a legal battle that would force Ohio to recognize his marriage and those of other same-sex couples.
After a ceremony of less than 10 minutes at the Baltimore International Airport, Arthur and his partner, Jim Obergefell, immediately flew back to Cincinnati before Arthur’s health could further deteriorate. Arthur had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2011, an incurable and progressive neurodegenerative disease.
Arthur and Obergefell had been a couple since 1992, but they decided to marry only after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on June 26 to strike down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Both men indicated that they wished to be buried together in Arthur’s family plot, one which is restricted to direct descendants and spouses. So 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 ruled that Obergefell may be listed as Arthur’s surviving spouse.
The terminal nature of Arthur’s disease expedited the case through the judicial system. The couple’s attorney argued that the pair would face “irreparable harm” if Arthur’s death certificate listed him as “single.”
“We’ve been beside each other for 20 years. We deserve to be beside each other in perpetuity,” Obergefell testified.
“It’s huge,” Obergefell said on MSNBC’s The Last Word shortly after the ruling. “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.”
Arthur was born in Chicago in 1965.
Judge 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.
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