Ohio Gay Couple Wins Right to Be Buried Together

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 24 2013 1:15 PM

Ohio Gay Couple Wins Right to Be Buried Together

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A reveller waves a rainbow flag during a gay pride parade

File photo by Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

We're bringing you a bittersweet story from Ohio today:  A Cincinnati gay couple has finally won the right to be buried together, thanks to a federal judge's ruling on Monday. Though Ohio does not currently recognize same-sex marriage, the couple, James Obergefell and John Arthur, wanted the world to "officially remember and record their union as a married couple," since Arthur is likely on the verge of dying from Lou Gehrig's disease and in hospice care. The couple, who has been together for more than twenty years, filed the lawsuit on Friday, and only a few days later the judge ruled in their favor. Here's the Associated Press with the details:

Federal Judge Timothy Black ordered… that the death certificate of ailing John Arthur show that he was married and that James Obergefell is his surviving spouse. The ruling means the pair can be buried next to each other in Arthur’s family plot, located at a cemetery that only allows descendants and spouses.
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In his ruling, Black mentioned that Ohio has historically recognized legal out-of-state marriages — even marriages between cousins and involving minors. "How then can Ohio, especially given the historical status of Ohio law, single out same-sex marriages as ones it will not recognize?" Black wrote. "The short answer is that Ohio cannot."

While the ruling may be case-specific, it's nonetheless seen as something of a moral victory for gay-rights advocates and one more step towards marriage equality in Ohio. As the couple's attorney Al Gerhardstein noted, the ruling means much more to the couple than just a legal form. "It’s the state where these men have built their lives, the city where they built their lives, finally turning to them and saying, 'Yes, we do recognize that you’re a couple as much as any opposite-sex couple and that your life and now your death will be honored in a way that other married couples would be treated,'" he said. Well said.

Jennifer Lai is an associate editor at Slate. Slate Plus members, email her here.