Latest Gay Marriage Lawsuit Won’t Affect Plans To Put Issue On Fall Ballot

Feb 21, 2014

Earlier this week, a Northeast Ohio same-sex couple filed a federal lawsuit, saying they are being denied a family insurance plan on the federal health care exchange because of Ohio’s 2004 voter-approved ban on such unions.

Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles examines what effect, if any, the lawsuit will have on the effort to repeal the ban.

Cleveland area residents Al Cowger Junior and Tony Wesley Junior have been together for 28 years.  They were married in upstate New York in 2012 and have a 7-year-old adopted daughter.  Yet under the gay marriage ban amendment passed by voters in 2004, their marriage is not recognized in Ohio.  Cowger, an attorney, says that caused problems for him recently when he tried to replace a family health insurance policy that had been cancelled because of the new affordable care act.

Cowger – When we went to the marketplace to find a new policy, we found out that because our New York marriage is not deemed valid in Ohio, we could not get a family policy via the marketplace.  And if we wanted to get a family policy, it would have to outside the marketplace that it would cost us about twice as much as we had been paying for health insurance.

So Cowger is asking a federal court to allow him to purchase a family health care plan.  But that’s not all.

Cowger- The second broader request is that the Ohio constitutional provision that forbids same sex marriages be overturned on the grounds that it is simply unconstitutional.  And that is following a whole line of case law that has come out very quickly over the past couple of years.

Indeed there have been cases in other states where courts have ruled the rights of same sex couples are being denied because of gay marriage bans on the books.  Recently in Ohio, a federal court ruled a gay couple who were married in another state should be designated as married on a state sanctioned death certificate.  And there’s another case pending, asking the federal court to allow both members of a gay married couple to be listed on Ohio birth certificates.  And while all of this is happening in the courts, there’s a group that’s been circulating petitions in Ohio to try to put a repeal of the gay marriage ban before voters this fall.  Ian James heads the Freedom to Marry Ohio campaign for FreedomOhio.  He says these lawsuits won’t have an effect on his campaign.

James – These are all surgical litigation that follows in with FreedomOhio’s all of the above strategy.  You go to court.  You find a way through the courts.  You go to the ballot.  You talk to the voters.  You have a public relations campaign.  You have a grass roots campaign.  All of the above must be taken into account and we must follow through with each of those to find equality.

James says it’s important to realize the courts won’t be able to end Ohio’s ban on gay marriage as fast as voters can.

James – The reality is these lawsuits will go through one court, they’ll go to appeals court, the appeals court could uphold the earlier decision or reject it or they could kick it back down to the lower courts and start the process all over again.  Inevitably, it’s going to get to the U.S. Supreme Court where they are going to decide but that is years away.

The state’s largest gay rights group, Equality Ohio, has expressed reservations about the amendment and the timing of it this year.  But James says marriage equality can’t wait because gay families are dealing with serious inequities now.