James Obergefell and John Arthur, lived in a loving and committed relationship for 22 years until John’s death on October 22, 2013. In 2011, John was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition for which there is no cure and Jim cared for him at every stage of his illness.
After the United States Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Windsor, James and John decided to marry. At the time, John was confined to his bed and the couple knew that they did not have much time left. John’s physical condition made it difficult to travel to a state where they would have the freedom to marry but with the support of family and friends, on July 11, 2013, the couple boarded a medically equipped plane and traveled to Maryland. Because of John’s fragile health, they could not leave the plane and were married inside the plane on the tarmac. When they returned to Ohio, they learned that Jim would not be listed on John’s death certificate as his surviving spouse when he died because Ohio did not recognize their marriage for any purpose.
On July 22, 2013, the District Court entered a temporary restraining order enjoining the enforcement of the State’s marriage recognition bans as applied to the eventual issuance of John’s death certificate. In accordance with that Order, after John died in October, his death certificate reflected that he was married and that James is his surviving spouse.
But the State of Ohio has appealed that ruling and the case is now pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. If the Court overturns the District Court’s order, the State will amend John’s death certificate to remove the reference to the couple’s marriage and the name of James as John’s surviving spouse. James seeks to make permanent the recognition of his marriage to John.
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