Republican Rep. John Becker is pretty upset that a
terminally ill gay man has earned the right to die in peace, and now
it’s become a very real possibility that other gay Ohioans might also
get to die (and live) in peace. And, just like my brother, he’s kind of trying to
ruin the game for everyone just because he’s losing.
In July, Judge Timothy Black heard the case of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, a long-term gay couple who flew to Maryland to marry at the beginning of the month because Arthur is terminally ill, in hospice care, and not expected to live much longer.
Obergefell and Arthur sued the state of Ohio for
discrimination in not recognizing their out-of-state gay marriage, legal
and recognized in Maryland, when other gay couples residing in states
recognizing same-sex marriages and subsequently moved to Ohio would have
their marriages treated as valid. And because Arthur is terminally ill, it's just as much for the emotional connection as it is for any kind of economic benefit.
Here's what Obergefell wrote in his original complaint (grab a tissue):
“Our legacy as a married couple is very important to John and me… in two or more generations our descendants will not know who we are.
In his ruling, Black called the case “not complicated,” explaining that he’d allow the marriage to be legalized on Arthur’s death certificate because it was likely a constitutional violation that the state of Ohio treated lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages differently than lawful out-of-state same-sex marriages.
In September, he ruled to allow the marriage of another gay
couple — David Michener and William Herbert Ives — after Ives
unexpectedly passed away in late August. Although these aren't (yet) blanket rulings, they're being interpreted as monumental victories for supporters of marriage equality.
Becker, then, decided to do the political equivalent of my brother running to my mom and accusing me of cheating; he wrote U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup and called for Black to be impeached for “malfeasance and abuse of power,” which apparently made him really concerned about the “federal government’s ever growing propensity to violate state sovereignty.”
Unfortunately, though, U.S. District Court judges are
appointed for life, so since Becker’s claims against Judge Black are
totally unfounded, Black is free to continue to anger Becker and other people who don't approve of equality for gay couples.
Alphonse Gerhardstein, the attorney for both couples, calls Becker's response to the rulings "bullying."
"Federal judges are granted tenure for life for a reason. It's their job to enforce core principles even when the majority disagrees," he says. "Look at the Dred Scott case. I think most people would agree that's the worst case decision ever made by a judge, and even he didn't get impeached." (In case you forget, he's talking about Dred Scott v. Sandford, the landmark 1857 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ruled black people weren't citizens.)
Things that actually can get a judge impeached, says Gerhardstein, are offenses like having sex with a criminal defendant or taking bribes.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the court added licensed funeral director Robert Grunn, who is responsible for registering deaths and providing personal information to the state on what should go on a death certificate, to the list of plaintiffs. Grunn currently serves same-sex couples when he signs death certificates, says the lawsuit, including those with marriages recognized outside the state of Ohio. The lawsuit, if successful, could require all funeral directors to recognize gay clients as married on death certificates if they were legally married in a different state.
Gerhardstein also says since accepting Arthur and Obergefell's case, he and his colleagues have received inquiries from between 30 to 50 other gay couples seeking legal recognitions of their out-of-state marriages. For now, he says, he and his firm are concentrating on cases specifically involving recognizing same-sex marriages on death certificates, although this litigation could (and probably will) lead to other blanket rulings on how same-sex marriages are recognized in Ohio.
Another hearing with Judge Black is scheduled for Dec. 18.