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Latest Gay Marriage Lawsuit Won’t Affect Plans to Put Issue on Fall Ballot

Friday, February 21, 2014 at 4:27 PM

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Earlier this week, a couple from Northeast Ohio filed a federal court suit saying they are being denied a family insurance plan on the federal health care exchange because of Ohio’s amendment banning gay marriage. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles takes a look at what effect, if any, that lawsuit will have on the effort to repeal that amendment.

Cleveland area residents Al Cowger Jr. and Tony Wesley Jr. have been together for 28 years. They were married in upstate New York in 2012 and have a seven-year-old adopted daughter. But under the gay marriage ban amendment passed by voters in 2004, their marriage is not recognized in Ohio.

Cowger, an attorney, says that caused problems for him recently when he tried to replace a family health insurance policy that had been cancelled because of the new Affordable Care Act.

“When we went to the marketplace to find a new policy, we found out that because our New York marriage is not deemed valid in Ohio, that we could not get a family policy via the marketplace,” Cowger said. “And if we wanted to get a family policy, it would have to outside the marketplace and would cost us about twice as much as we had been paying for health insurance.

So Cowger is asking a federal court to allow him to purchase a family health care plan. But that’s not all.

“The second broader request is that the Ohio constitutional provision that forbids same-sex marriages be overturned on the grounds that it is simply unconstitutional,” he said. “And that would be following a whole line of case law that has come out very quickly over the past couple years.”

Indeed there have been cases in other states where courts have ruled the rights of same-sex couples are being denied because of gay marriage bans on the books. Recently in Ohio, a federal court ruled a gay couple who were married in another state should be designated as married on a state-sanctioned death certificate. And there’s another case pending asking the federal court to allow both members of a gay married couple to be listed on Ohio birth certificates.

And while all of this is happening in the courts, there’s a group that’s been circulating petitions in Ohio to try to put a repeal of the gay marriage ban before voters this fall.

Ian James heads the Freedom to Marry Ohio campaign for FreedomOhio. He says these lawsuits won’t have an effect on his campaign.

“These are all surgical litigation that follows in with FreedomOhio’s all-of-the-above strategy,” James said. “You go to court. You find a way through the courts. You go to the ballot. You talk to the voters. You have a public relations campaign. You have a grassroots campaign. All of the above must be taken into account and we must follow through with each of those to find equality.”

James says it’s important to realize the courts won’t be able to end Ohio’s ban on gay marriage as fast as voters can.

“The reality is that these lawsuits will go through one court, they’ll go to appeals court, the appeals court can either say that they’re going uphold the earlier decision or reject it,” James said. “They could kick it back down to the lower courts and start the process all over again. Inevitably, it’s going to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they are going to decide, but that’s years away.”

The state’s largest gay rights group, Equality Ohio, has expressed reservations about the amendment and the timing of it this year. But James says marriage equality can’t wait because gay families are dealing with serious inequities now.

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Government/Politics, Elections, Health

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