Federal Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Six Marriage Cases

Cases Challenge Bans on Freedom to Marry and Marriage Recognition for Same-Sex Couples in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, and Kentucky

Robyn Shepherd, ACLU national, 212-519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

CINCINNATI – A federal appeals court will hear arguments today in six challenges to laws that ban marriage for same-sex couples or the recognition of marriages of same-sex couples throughout the 6th Circuit.

In each case, a lower court in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, or Kentucky struck down bans on marriage or the recognition of marriages of same-sex couples as unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Ohio are co-counsel in one of the cases, Obergefell v. Himes, in which the district court ruled Ohio’s marriage ban unconstitutional as applied to the recognition of marriages for purposes of death certificates. The case was filed on behalf of a Cincinnati man and his late husband by Alphonse Gerhardstein of Gerhardstein & Branch shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor.

“No couple should have to live through the uncertainty that John and I did in the most painful moments of our lives,” said James Obergefell, the plaintiff in the case. “I will fight to preserve John’s last wish to have our marriage respected. And I fight for all caring and devoted Ohio couples, too.”

James Obergefell and John Arthur were in a committed relationship for 22 years and wished to marry. When Arthur’s condition deteriorated due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the two flew to Maryland on a medically-equipped plane, where they were married on the tarmac in July 2013. When they returned, they learned that Obergefell would not be listed on Arthur’s death certificate as his surviving spouse when he died because Ohio did not recognize their marriage for any purpose.

Shortly after filing, a district court temporarily suspended Ohio’s recognition ban as it applied to this case. Arthur died in October, with his death certificate listing him as married and recognizing Obergefell as his surviving spouse. The state is appealing that ruling. If the district court decision is overturned the state of Ohio could amend Arthur’s death certificate to remove all mention of Jim and of their marriage.

Also represented in the case is David Michener, who unexpectedly lost his husband William Herbert Ives shortly after their marriage last year. Michener, who has been raising the couple’s three children, is also suing to ensure that Ives’ death certificate is accurate. Robert Grunn, a funeral director whose clients included Obergefell and Arthur, is also a plaintiff.

“The state’s insistence on denying these families this one simple dignity is cruel to them, and to all loving and committed same-sex couples in Ohio,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We are seeking justice for our clients, and also seeking to ensure that this never happens again.”

Other cases being heard by the 6th Circuit today include:

  • Another Ohio case, Henry v. Himes, also dealing with the recognition of out-of-state marriages.
  • Two cases from Kentucky, Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear, dealing with recognition and freedom to marry, respectively.
  • A right to marry case from Michigan, DeBoer v. Snyder, and a recognition case from Tennessee, Tanco v. Haslam.

More information on this case can be found at: https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/obergefell-et-al-v-himes-freedom-marry-ohio