CINCINNATI - A federal judge on Monday ordered Ohio authorities to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states, the latest court victory for gay rights supporters.
Judge Timothy Black ruled that refusing to recognize 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.
The order does not force Ohio to allow gay marriages to be performed in the state.
The state plans to appeal Black's ruling, arguing that Ohio has a sovereign right to ban gay marriage, which voters did overwhelmingly in 2004.
Black delayed deciding whether to issue a stay of his ruling pending the state's appeal in the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until after attorneys on both sides present arguments on the issue by Tuesday.
However, Black said he is inclined to stay his ruling pending appeal, except for a portion that applies to the four gay couples who filed the February lawsuit that led to the court case. That would mean the state would immediately have to recognize their marriages and list both spouses as parents on their children's birth certificates.
If Black declines to stay his broader ruling, that would allow gay couples in Ohio to obtain the same benefits as any other married couple in the state, including property rights and the right to make some medical decisions for their partner.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told The Associated Press last week that he believes marriage is between a man and woman, and that Ohio voters decided the same in 2004 when they passed the statewide gay marriage ban.
"My job as attorney general is to defend statutes and defend Ohio's constitutional provisions," he said Wednesday. "This was voted on by voters so my job is to do that."
DeWine declined to speculate what the outcome of the state's appeal will be or the future of gay marriage rights as a whole.
"Every state is having a lively debate over this and I think that's a proper thing to do," he said. "I think it's pretty obvious that all these issues are going to be resolved by the 6th Circuit and some cases are going to get to the Supreme Court. They're going to have a decision in the United States Supreme Court and we're all going to have to accept that."
Attorneys representing the four same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit that triggered Black's ruling argued that it amounts to state-approved discrimination and likened it to when interracial marriage was illegal in the United States.
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. The Kentucky decision has been stayed pending appeal, while Tennessee's ruling applies to only three couples.
Al Gerhardstein, the Cincinnati civil rights attorney who has filed three gay marriage lawsuits in Ohio since June, said several gay couples who want to win the right to marry in Ohio have contacted him. He's considering filing a new lawsuit on their behalf aimed at striking down Ohio's gay marriage ban entirely.
"The ultimate goal is full marriage equality," Gerhardstein said.