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Man Challenging Ohio’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Dies

Aerial photograph of Cincinnati

Aerial photograph of Cincinnati (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Arthur, who touched off a legal battle to force Ohio to recognize his same-sex couple, died Tuesday.

Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2011, and his terminal illness played a prominent role in the couple’s decision to marry. He and his husband had been a couple since 1992 but decided to marry after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision striking down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

“We had talked about getting married, and we never ever felt it would be anything more than symbolic because of the nature of our country,” Arthur said in an interview before the wedding.

As they watched coverage of the Supreme Court decision from their condo, they decided that the potential for federal recognition was enough to pursue a legal marriage. Because Ohio has a constitutional ban on same-sex weddings, they had to travel to one of the states that allow gay couples to marry. Their decision was complicated by the fact that Arthur was bedridden and unable to travel except on a medical transport plane. They settled on Maryland because his partner could get a marriage license by himself, requiring Arthur to travel just once.

On July 11, they flew to Baltimore International Airport on a donated Lear jet. After a 7 1/2-minute ceremony on the tarmac, the couple flew back to Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport.

After their wedding, the couple were contacted by civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, who had worked on challenges to Ohio’s marriage ban. Days later, they filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state and the city of Cincinnati, claiming that failure to recognize their marriage violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, because Ohio recognizes other marriages performed outside the state that Ohio bans (such as marriages between first cousins).

Arthur’s terminal illness allowed the case to move quickly through the court. It also allowed Gerhardstein to argue that the couple would face “irreparable harm” if Arthur was listed as single on his death certificate. Arthur’s family plot at Spring Grove Cemetery is limited to direct descendants and their spouses, so the question of recognizing their marriage also was likely to influence where he was buried and whether his partner could someday be buried next to him.

Cincinnati officials decided not to challenge the couple’s case, but Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine defended the state’s ban. Federal Judge Timothy Black issued an order requiring that Arthur be listed as married on his death certificate and Obergefell named his surviving spouse.

Although he was bedridden in the last months of his life, the publicity from his court case gave him a link to the outside world as hundreds of people sent gifts, letters, and cards of support. \ “It’s been a swell of anonymous support,” he said in August. “It’s truly the supporters who are seeking us out to congratulate us and acknowledge us and give us words of support and thanks.”

In addition to his husband, Arthur is survived by his father and his brother Curtis. Donations in his memory can be made to the ALS Association of Central Ohio or the Cincinnati Park Board.

Via USA Today.

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One comment on “Man Challenging Ohio’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Dies

  1. And were are Kasich and DeWine…in court still fighting against Judge Timothy Black’s ruling. How shameful.

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