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Windsor expanded in Ohio ruling

Expanding the meaning of the Supreme Court’s decision in June in United States v. Windsor, a federal judge in Cincinnati ruled on Monday that states have a constitutional duty to accept the marriages of same-sex couples performed legally in other states.  U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black said the Windsor ruling took away from states the power to nullify valid marriages, although state laws were not at issue in that case.

The judge said the ruling was limited to giving two same-sex couples who were married in Maryland the right to have that fact declared on a death certificate in Ohio, where they live, when one of the spouses died.  But the ruling, at least in its broader reasoning, contradicts a part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that was not before the Supreme Court when it struck down another part in Windsor.

Under DOMA’s Section 2, Congress declared that no state can be required to recognize marriages performed in other states.  While Judge Black noted that the provision was not at issue in this case, he said “the implications of today’s ruling speak for themselves.”   The DOMA decision struck down Section 3, barring any federal marital benefits to same-sex couples who were legally married in states that permitted it.

Monday’s ruling, in the case of Obergefell v.Wymyslo, “flows from the Windsor decision,” the judge wrote.  Now, he said, lower courts are moving to apply that ruling, “as they must, and the question is presented whether a state can do what the federal government cannot — e.g., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004 [in Ohio]).  Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”

The opinion added: “The fact that each state has the exclusive right to create marriages within its territory does not logically lead to the conclusion that states can nullify already-established marriages from other co-equal states absent due process of law.”

Judge Black found no compelling state interest to justify Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage as a basis for refusing to recognize valid marriages from elsewhere.

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Windsor expanded in Ohio ruling, SCOTUSblog (Dec. 24, 2013, 10:39 AM),