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Federal judge rules Ohio must recognize same-sex marriage on death certificates

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Monday that Ohio must recognize valid out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples on Ohio death certificates. The order also extends to marriages not authorized or validly performed under Ohio law, such as marriages between first cousins, marriages of certain minors and common law marriages. The court stated that by treating lawful same-sex marriages differently than it treats lawful opposite sex marriages, Ohio law violates the US Constitution's Equal Protection Clause [LII backgrounder]. In his limited holding, Judge Timothy Black stated that the right to remain married is properly recognized as one that is a fundamental liberty interest appropriately protected by the due process clause of the US Constitution. The court applied an intermediate standard of review, as the right to marriage recognition has not historically been labeled "fundamental."

Black expanded the lawsuit in September and ruled in July and September [JURIST reports] that the surviving same-sex spouses should be listed as spouses on death certificates because their marriages were valid under the laws of the states where they were performed. Black's order allowed David Michener to be listed as "spouse" on the death certificate of his late husband, William Herbert Ives. While the state constitution of Ohio [text] prohibits same-sex marriage, state law does recognize marriages solemnized outside of the state. Michener and Ives were married in Delaware in July [AP report] after having been together for 18 years. Ives died suddenly and is survived by Michener and their three adopted children. Black's rulings in favor of same-sex marriage have relied upon the US Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor [opinion, PDF], handed down in June, Black could not find a legitimate state interest [Reuters report] in the denial of Michener's request for Ives to be listed as "married" on the death certificate. Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] continues to be a polarizing issue across the US.

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