A federal judge said Friday that he will order Ohio to recognize out-of-state gay marriages, a move that strikes down part of the state's ban on gay marriages but stops short of forcing it to perform same-sex weddings.
Judge Timothy Black announced his intentions in federal court in Cincinnati following final arguments in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of the marriage ban.
"I intend to issue a declaration that Ohio's recognition bans, that have been relied upon to deny legal recognition to same-sex couples validly entered in other states where legal, violates the rights secured by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," Black said. "(They're) denied their fundamental right to marry a person of their choosing and the right to remain married."
Black said he'll issue the ruling April 14. The civil rights attorneys who filed the February lawsuit did not ask Black to order the state to perform gay marriages, and he did not say he would do so.
Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Federal judges have also struck down bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, and ordered Kentucky and Tennessee to recognize out-of-state gay marriages, though stays have been issued pending appeals.
Pam and Nicole Yorksmith, a Cincinnati couple who married in California in 2008 and have a 3-year-old son, were among the four couples who filed the lawsuit challenging the gay marriage ban and said Black's comments Friday gave them validation.
"It also validates to our kids that we're bringing into our marriage that their parents are recognized by the state that we live in, and that's extremely important," Pam Yorksmith said. "We're teaching kids of future generations that all families are different and just because our family doesn't look like your family doesn't mean that ours shouldn't be recognized."
Nicole Yorksmith is pregnant through artificial insemination with the couple's second child and is due in June.
The Cincinnati-based legal team asked Black to declare that Ohio's gay marriage ban is "facially unconstitutional, invalid and unenforceable," and indicated that following such a ruling, the window would be open for additional litigation seeking to force the state to allow gay couples to marry in Ohio.
"This is a serious problem at the basic level of human dignity," said civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, who argued that Black should strike down the entire marriage ban as well. "That human dignity is denied by the way Ohio treats same-sex couples. This is central to our whole commitment as a nation to equality."
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio's attorney general, said the state will appeal Black's order when it comes out but declined to comment further.
Attorneys for the state argued that it's Ohio's sole province to define marriage as between a man and a woman, that the statewide gay marriage ban doesn't violate any fundamental rights, and that attorneys improperly expanded their originally narrow lawsuit.
"Ohio has made its own decision regarding marriage, deciding to preserve the traditional definition," state's attorneys argued in court filings ahead of Friday's hearing.
They argued that striking down the law would "disregard the will of Ohio voters, and undercut the democratic process."
Black didn't say why he made the announcement on his ruling before he issues it. But by stating his intention ahead of his ruling, Black gave time for the state to prepare an appeal that can be filed as soon as he does.
In December, Black issued a much narrower ruling that forced Ohio to recognize gay marriage on death certificates. He indicated at that time that the marriage ban was unconstitutional and discriminatory.
The state appealed that ruling, and the case is pending in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.