A federal judge in Ohio has ordered state officials there to recognize the Maryland marriage of a terminally ill gay Cincinnati man on his state death certificate.
He and his husband expect he will die soon.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black to grant John Arthur and his husband Jim Obergefell a temporary restraining order against the 2004 Ohio law banning recognition of their marriage came despite a warning from the state's attorney general that it could contribute to a broad rewriting of Ohio law in favor of such unions, which are currently banned in the state.
Arthur and Obergefell first wed in a special medical jet on a tarmac at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport earlier this month. Arthur suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and can't travel without such medical support.
Family and friends helped fund the expensive flight.
In their lawsuit against Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Cincinnati Vital Statistics Registrar Camille Jones, the couple acknowledged Arthur is likely to die soon, and claimed the state's refusal to recognize their marriage in Maryland, including on Arthur's death certificate, would cause them severe harm.
In his decision Monday, Black wrote that his order restraining the state from enforcing its laws applied to Arthur and Obergefell only, through Aug. 5 or as extended by the court, and that in that limited scope would not have an affect on Ohio or its other citizens.
However, Black also took aim at the state's current law, saying Arthur and Obergefell "are not currently accorded the same dignity and recognition as similarly situated opposite-sex couples" in Ohio.
Black referenced the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the federal law banning recognition of same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal, and challenged the notion that Ohio could pick and choose which out-of-state marriages to recognize -- even among those that would be illegal in Ohio.
Black found that Ohio already recognizes opposite-sex marriages between first cousins and minors that are legal in other states but not legal in Ohio.
"How then can Ohio, especially given the historical status of Ohio law, single out same sex marriages as ones it will not recognize?" Black wrote. "The short answer is that Ohio cannot ... at least not under the circumstances here."
In a response to the couple's motion, John P. Curp, the city solicitor in Cincinnati, who represented Jones, said while Jones had to follow state law in her job as vital statistics registrar, the city "will not defend Ohio's discriminatory ban on same-sex marriages."
In fact, Cincinnati officials had named July 11, 2013, the day Obergefell and Arthur were married in Maryland, as "John Arthur and James Obergefell Day" in the city, which has a record of passing broader legal protections for gay and lesbian citizens than the state.
That left a challenge to the couple's motion in the hands of DeWine, who argued in his own response that any ruling in favor of the couple would set a bad precedent -- threatening the state's Constitutional amendment banning recognition of same-sex marriages that was supported by Ohio's voters.
Arthur and Obergefell "ask the Court, in a temporary restraining order, to strike down Ohio's definition of marriage and to alter its Constitution," DeWine wrote.
"Just as Maryland is free to choose to recognize same-sex marriage, Ohio is free to follow tradition," he wrote.
Black did not agree, granting the temporary restraining order.
How the case might impact Ohio's laws or future challenges to them is unclear.