Ohio death certificates must recognize same-sex marriages-judge

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 23, 2013 3:38 PM

By Kim Palmer

(Reuters) - Ohio must recognize on death certificates same-sex marriages from other states, a federal judge ruled on Monday, marking the latest in a series of U.S. court victories for gay rights in the past week.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black requires Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates in the same way it does all other marriages valid in states where they were performed.

Black found that couples moving from state to state expected their marriage, and property rights entwined with it, to be respected wherever they went.

The right to remain married is "a fundamental liberty interest" protected by the U.S. Constitution, Black wrote.

"Here, Ohio's marriage recognition bans violate this fundamental right without rational justification," he wrote.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General's office said the state would appeal the decision.

Black's entry of a permanent injunction against Ohio came days after a federal judge in Utah and the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages legal in those states.

The ruling made Utah the 18th state in which same-sex couples can marry along with the District of Columbia. Utah state officials are appealing the ruling that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. Constitution.

Ohio in 2004 adopted statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage or the recognition of such marriages performed elsewhere. It recognizes all other valid out-of-state marriages even if they cannot be performed in Ohio, including marriages between first cousins and of certain minors.

Black previously entered temporary orders requiring Ohio to list the surviving spouses of two same-sex couples on death certificates. The couples had been married in Delaware and Maryland where same-sex marriages are legal.

Black cited the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision striking down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

"When a state effectively terminates the marriage of a same-sex couple married in another jurisdiction, it intrudes into the realm of private marital, family, and intimate relations specifically protected by the Supreme Court," Black found.

Black said a death certificate has evidentiary value for life insurance payouts, Social Security claims, administration of wills and transfers of titles to homes, cars and other property. Under Ohio law, a married same-sex spouse is treated as unmarried and many rights afforded a surviving heterosexual spouse are denied them.

Ohio's tax commission also has refused to offer same-sex spouses equal protection under its regulations, while the federal government now does, Black said.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Kevin Gray and Andrew Hay)