Lawsuit aims to strike down Ohio gay marriage ban

'The couples in this case are in love'

CINCINNATI -- Civil rights attorneys have filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down Ohio's gay marriage ban and to allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Cincinnati on behalf of six gay Ohio couples who say they're in love and want to get married.

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Most of the plaintiffs are not able to travel out of state to get married, according to lead counsel Jennifer Branch.

The lead plaintiff, Michelle Gibson, has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair.

The six couples have been in committed relationships for between two and 19 years, Branch said.

“Some have been engaged for years but cannot marry here, at home, surrounded by family and friends, because Ohio forbids it," Branch said. "Ohio’s unequal treatment of these couples is unconstitutional and cannot continue. Nobody’s constitutional rights can be voted away.”

The couples who filed the suit are Gibson and Deborah Meem, Heather Apple and Mary K. Koehler, Ronald Kastner Beck and Dave Beck, Andrew Hickman and Ethan Fletcher, Gary Goodman and Karl Rece, Jr., Rhonda Craig and Kendra Dukes.

"We have a right to be able to file as a couple as a married couple in the state of Ohio and we will accept nothing less," Gary Goodman said.

"We all own homes here," Mary Kay Koehler said. "We pay taxes here. We have family and friends here. It's not fair to ask us to go to another state to get married."

Branch said there's been a lot of change in the past ten years.

"I would hope that the attorney general would do what attorneys general have done in other states, which is not defend," she said.

Attorney General Mike DeWine has said he will continue to defend the gay marriage ban, which was passed overwhelmingly by Ohio voters in 2004.

"As the attorney general of the State of Ohio, I have a legal obligation, ethical obligation to defend Ohio's statute as well as to defend Ohio's constitution," DeWine said.

The same law firm that filed Wednesday's lawsuit filed a February lawsuit that led judge Timothy Black to order Ohio to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

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“This Court finds no reasonable basis on which to exclude gay men, lesbians, and others who wish to enter into same-sex marriages from this culturally foundational institution," Black said.

That April 14 order stopped short of forcing Ohio to allow gay couples to wed in the state.

Black's order is on hold pending DeWine's forthcoming appeal.

Separately from the flurry of court action, FreedomOhio is seeking to put gay marriage back on the Ohio ballot as early as November, asking voters to require that all legally valid marriages be treated equally under the law, while keeping clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

Phil Burress, who led the 2004 effort to ban same-sex marriage, has said his group is prepared to fight any ballot initiative to repeal the ban.

Burress said he is confident that appeals courts will overturn Black's order and other recent rulings nationwide in favor of gay marriage.

Gay marriage is legal in 17 states and Washington, D.C. Federal judges recently have struck down gay marriage bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, though stays have been issued pending appeals.

Similar to Ohio's ruling, judges in Kentucky and Tennessee have ordered state officials to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. Both those orders also have been put on hold.

Ten federal courts have struck down their states' same-sex marriage bans after the Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor.

“A national consensus is emerging,” said Branch. “The Constitution protects the right of consenting adults to love whoever they want. It is time for Ohio to do the same.”

(WCPO's Julie O'Neill contributed to this report.)



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