CINCINNATI (AP) — Two Ohio men who want their out-of-state marriage recognized as one of them nears death have gotten a ruling in their favor from a federal judge, who wrote that they deserve to be treated with dignity in a case that's seen as encouraging for same-sex marriage supporters in the state.
Federal Judge Timothy Black ordered Monday that the death certificate of ailing John Arthur show that he was married and that James Obergefell is his surviving spouse. The ruling means the pair can be buried next to each other in Arthur's family plot, located at a cemetery that only allows descendants and spouses.
Ohio does not recognize same-sex marriage.
Arthur and Obergefell, both 47, say they've been in love for more than 20 years, that Arthur is likely on the verge of dying from Lou Gehrig's disease, and that "they very much want the world to officially remember and record their union as a married couple," according to a lawsuit filed by the couple Friday against Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and a Cincinnati official responsible for filing death certificates.
Obergefell said Tuesday that he and Arthur's fight was about more than just a piece of paper.
"To have a federal judge say, 'You know what, John and Jim, your relationship exists and it's just as valid as any other married couple,'" Obergefell said. "It's an incredible feeling — that we do matter."
Though Black's order was specific to the couple's case, opponents of Ohio's ban on gay marriage were encouraged by it.
"This is one more step toward marriage equality in the state of Ohio," said the couple's attorney, Al Gerhardstein, who said he's gotten calls from other same-sex couples who married in other states and are exploring their options to have their marriage recognized in Ohio.
He said that Arthur and Obergefell were courageous to take on the legal fight, given Arthur's declining health.
"They're in the middle of every couple's worst nightmare," Gerhardstein said. "This is a very difficult time for them and to share this time with the world as they try to solve these problems — it's been a huge sacrifice for them and I admire them."