Ohio man who fought for right to have marriage to partner recognized dies, leaves behind legacy

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John Arthur, who fought in Ohio for the right to marry his partner of twenty years, James Obergefell, died on Tuesday. He was 47 years old. 

Arthur had long been crippled with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that left him bedridden and in need of care. Obergefell remained by his side throughout.

But because of Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage, they were never able to wed in their home state.

In June, the couple flew on a private plane to Maryland and were officially married on board. Upon their return to Ohio, they sued in Cincinnati’s federal court for the right to have their marriage recognized in their home state so that someday, when the time came for both of them, they could be legally buried beside one another on Arthur’s family plot. 

“Their love is a model for all of us,” attorney Al Gerhardstein said. “Part of John’s legacy will be the difference he has already made in the struggle for marriage equality.” 

US District Judge Timothy Black ruled in favor of Arthur and Obergefell, as well as another couple who joined their case, saying that they all deserved to be treated like any other legally married couple who had weddings performed out of state. Because Ohio’s law recognizes out-of-state heterosexual marriages, they should honor same-sex ones as well. 

“How then can Ohio, especially given the historical status of Ohio law, single out same-sex marriages as ones it will not recognize?” Judge Black wrote in August. “The short answer is that Ohio cannot.”

The original lawsuit was expanded to include same-sex couples in a similar situation who were married out-of-state to have their marital status honored on an Ohio death certificate. 

Black’s ruling has drawn attention from other states who are dealing with similar conflicts. Some conservative lawmakers in Ohio did not agree with Black’s ruling, with one legislator calling for his impeachment. 

See a video here of Arthur and Obergefell’s full story. 

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