Ohio officials must immediately recognize the same-sex marriages of four couples who sued over the state's gay marriage ban, a federal judge said Wednesday, while staying the broader effects of his ruling to avoid "premature celebration and confusion" in case it's overturned on appeal.
Judge Timothy Black stayed his ruling ordering Ohio to recognize the marriages of gay couples who wed in other states pending appeal in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The appeals process likely will take months.
Had Black not issued the stay, all married gay couples living in Ohio would have been able to immediately begin obtaining the same benefits as any other married couple in the state, including property rights and the right to make some medical decisions for each other.
Black said the stay does not apply to the four couples who filed the February lawsuit that led to the court case and ordered Ohio to immediately list both spouses in each relationship as parents on their children's birth certificates.
In explaining the stay, Black said that although he doesn't think the state's appeal will succeed, there is still a chance the 6th Circuit could overturn his decision.
"The court recognizes that recognition of same-sex marriages is a hotly contested issue in the contemporary legal landscape, and, if (the) appeal is ultimately successful, the absence of a stay ... is likely to lead to confusion, potential inequity and high costs," Black said. "Premature celebration and confusion do not serve anyone's best interests."
In a court filing arguing for a stay, attorneys for the state did not contest Black's stated inclination to allow the four couples to both be listed on their children's birth certificates.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said that state's attorneys feel Black's stay is appropriate but declined to comment further.
Al Gerhardstein, the Cincinnati civil rights attorney who represents the four couples in the lawsuit and argued against a stay of any kind, said in a statement Wednesday that "at least for these four couples, the Constitution stands on the side of love."
"The implementation of same-sex marriage recognition has started and we are all very excited," he said. "We will try and expedite the appeals process so full marriage recognition for all same-sex couples does not trail too far behind."
Three of the four couples who filed the lawsuit live in the Cincinnati area. One spouse in each relationship is pregnant and due to give birth this summer. The fourth couple lives in New York City but adopted a child from Ohio.
In Monday's ruling, Black said the state's refusal to recognize out-of-state gay marriage is a violation of constitutional rights and "unenforceable in all circumstances."
"The record before this court ... is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the state's ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation," Black wrote.
Including Black, eight federal judges have issued pro-gay-marriage rulings since the Supreme Court's decision last June that struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law. All but one of those rulings has been stayed pending appeal.
Although Black's order does not force Ohio to allow gay marriages to be performed in the state, Gerhardstein said he was planning to file a lawsuit in the next couple of weeks seeking such a ruling.