Amanda Lee Myers/AP

Ohio couples challenge state's ban on gay marriage

Six couples say ban violates equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution

Six same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday asking a judge to strike down Ohio's gay marriage ban as unconstitutional and allow same-sex couples to wed in the state, echoing arguments that have led judges to throw out gay marriage bans in five other states.

The challenge to Ohio's ban, which was adopted in 2004, follows a federal judge's ruling earlier in April that the state must recognize gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Like other successful challenges to statewide marriage bans across the country, the attorneys who filed the lawsuit are arguing that Ohio's ban violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

"A consensus is finally emerging: The Constitution protects the right of consenting adults to love whoever they want," the lawsuit says. "It is time for Ohio to do the same."

Civil rights attorneys representing the six couples filed the lawsuit in a federal court in Cincinnati.

Attorney Jennifer Branch, who represents the six couples in the lawsuit filed Wednesday, said they want to marry. Some have been engaged for years but are barred from marrying in their home state surrounded by friends and family, she said.

"Ohio's unequal treatment of these couples is unconstitutional and cannot continue," Branch said in a statement. "Nobody's constitutional rights can be voted away."

The couples also are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. "Without access to marriage these plaintiffs and their children are treated as second-class citizens," the lawsuit said.

"We are just like any other couple," said Gary Goodman, who proposed to his longtime partner, Karl Rece Jr., in 2011 and is hoping to marry him on Christmas Day.

"We love each other dearly. I would die for him," Goodman said. "We just want the simplest thing: We want to be able to marry here in Cincinnati, in the state of Ohio, and we want it to be something that we share with our friends and our family because it's right."

U.S. Judge Timothy Black's April 4 ruling ordering Ohio to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere has been put on hold while Ohio appeals the decision.

Black had said in his ruling he found no reasonable basis to exclude same-sex marriages from being performed in Ohio. He was not asked to address that issue in the lawsuit.

Lisa Peterson Hackley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike DeWine, said in a news release that the office "is prepared to defend the state's constitution and statutes regarding marriage."

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich declined to comment "except to say that the governor believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, and he supports Ohio's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage."

Along with Wednesday's lawsuit, attorneys are asking federal Judge Michael Barrett to issue a temporary restraining order forcing Ohio to issue marriage licenses to the couples named in the lawsuit, record their marriages and grant them the same rights that other married couples in the state have.

Lead plaintiff Michelle Gibson has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. She and her partner Deborah Meem want their relationship of 19 years recognized in part for health care and financial decisions, and for their grandchildren.

The lawsuit says the couples are denied tax benefits available to opposite sex couples who can marry, lack access to other financial benefits, and also lack the recognition as partners needed in medical emergencies.

Momentum has grown toward expanding marriage rights for same-sex couples since the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that legally married gay couples were eligible for federal benefits.

Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. That number would increase sharply if federal court rulings striking down gay marriage bans in several states are upheld on appeal. Federal judges recently have struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, though stays have been issued pending appeals.

Judges in Kentucky and Tennessee in rulings similar to the one issued in Ohio have ordered state officials to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. Both those orders also have been put on hold.  

Al Jazeera and wire services

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