Commentary

08.10.14

Inside the Courtroom: Gay Marriage Gets its Day in Ohio

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“If I told you it took 78 years crossing the desert back and forth and back and forth, would you be surprised?”

This quote said by Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey during the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit hearings on six marriage equality cases, sums up the day.

Judge Daughtrey was responding to arguments made by Eric Murphy, Ohio’s state solicitor, in defense of Ohio’s marriage ban. Mr. Murphy was making the claim that courts should not decide the fate of gay marriage, but instead take up public votes state by state.

Judge Daughtrey was drawing the comparison of how long it took for women to get the right to vote, when they too, took up a state by state strategy. She also impressed upon him that this strategy failed ultimately leaving it up to the courts to right the constitutional wrong. Mr. Murphy had a hard time responding her question.

The courtroom was packed, with two overflow rooms. ACLU of Ohio and our ACLU national are co-counsel in one of the cases that was heard, Obergefell v. Himes. James Obergefell lost his husband, John, to ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and is fighting to be listed on the death certificate. Ohio denied this his request, despite James and John being legally married in another state.

Outside the courthouse, the energy was high with many supporters holding signs and waving rainbow flags. Noticeably absent were opposition protestors. A few were staged nearby but it was obvious their impact was minimal.

This high energy was fueled by a rally held the day before. About 1,000 people gathered to hear directly from the plaintiffs in all six of the cases. Their stories were inspirational and a common theme emerged from the night – committed same-sex couples are seeking the freedom to marry for the same reasons that different-sex couples marry: to make a lifetime commitment to the person they love, and to protect their families.

Another judge, Jeffrey Sutton, wondered why this is the right path instead of through the legislative or ballot process. He asked, “Why can’t we wait, let it play out?” The response was, “Because I represent four couples who deserve and need recognition today.” While we aren’t sure how the court will rule, it’s clear the momentum is on our side.

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