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Another Lawsuit over Ohio’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Filed in Federal Court

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 at 7:09 PM

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Protesters demonstrate in favor of same-sex marriage in Ohio. (file photo by Brian Bull)

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court on behalf of six gay couples in Ohio who want to get married here. As Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports, this lawsuit could be the one that overturns Ohio’s voter passed ban on gay marriage outright.

There are already two lawsuits being appealed right now that give a limited number of gay couples the right to list one another on birth, adoption and death certificates. But attorney Jennifer Branch says this new lawsuit demands more.

“We’re asking the judge to order that the constitutional amendment and marriage ban statute be held unconstitutional on their face,” Branch said. “And as soon as those two laws are unconstitutional, there is no prohibition on anyone in the state (from) going to their probate judge or their municipal court to get married.  It would allow everybody to get married. Before 2004, Ohio was silent on the gender of people getting who were getting married. There was no ban.”

Michelle Gibson says there shouldn’t be a ban now. She’s one of the plaintiffs in this case. Gibson wants to marry her longtime partner, and she doesn’t want to go to another state to do it because they live here.

“I have multiple sclerosis. It’s hard for me to travel now,” Gibson said. “I can but it’s much easier for me to just go downtown and get a marriage license and get married.”

Ronny Beck, another person bringing the suit, says he has named one of his children as his Social Security beneficiary. His partner has done the same for the couple’s other child. But Beck says it’s not fair that they have to do that.

“Just like any other couple when they fall in love, you don’t think about the financial aspects of like, do I get this benefit or will I have social security or those types of things,” Beck said. “But after you start thinking practically about it, you say, I want those things too.”

The leader of a group that was instrumental in passing Ohio’s voter approved gay-marriage ban in 2004 says this lawsuit could open a can of worms. Phil Burress is with Citizens for Community Values.

“If indeed a judge was to rule that under the 14th Amendment, they’re being denied equality, that could open the door to polygamy, and it could open the door to many more marriages than just three people,” Burress said. “I mean five, 10, 20, it just doesn’t matter.”

Burress says if the federal court rules in favor of these couples, the case will be appealed.  And he says that’s what the plaintiffs want.

“They have to get something before the Supreme Court,” he said. “We’re calling it a Hail Mary pass. The score is 31-3—31 states, people have gone to the polls to vote that marriage is between one man and one woman. Only three states—Washington, Maryland and Maine—have legalized same sex marriage and that was after $40 million was spent and they barely won by just over 50 percent. So they realize they are not going to be able to win at the ballot box.”

Attorney Jennifer Branch says public attitudes toward gay marriage have changed since Ohio’s ban was passed in 2004.

“I mean it is a world of difference in the last 10 years,” Branch said. “And it’s time for everyone to recognize that, and I would hope that the attorney generals would do what attorney generals have done in other states which is to not defend.”

Unlike previous cases, this one has been assigned to federal Judge Michael Barrett, a jurist appointed to the court by former Republican President George W. Bush, an opponent of gay marriage. Branch says because the other cases are already in the court system, it’s possible this case can be rolled in with those. But for plaintiff Michelle Gibson, there’s a personal reason to be part of this legal fight.

“I would like for this to be a legacy I can leave my grandchildren,” Gibson said.

There’s no timeline on when the case might be heard

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