Dying man fought same-sex marriage ban
By Julie Zimmerman October 22, 2013 3:36PM
This photo made Thursday, July 11, 2013, shows Jim Obergefell, right, and John Arthur after they returned from their wedding flight at Landmark Aviation at Cincinnati's Lunken Airport. The couple were married during a short ceremony on the plane, on the tarmac, at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, after flying in from Cincinnati. Arthur who suffered from ALS died early Tuesday at home in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/The Cincinnati Enquirer, Gary Landers) MANDATORY CREDIT, NO SALES
Updated: November 24, 2013 6:36AM
CINCINNATI — John Arthur, who flew from Cincinnati to Maryland in July to marry his longtime partner Jim Obergefell, touching off a legal battle to force the state of Ohio to recognize their marriage and those of other same-sex couples, died Tuesday at the age of 48.
Mr. Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2011, and his terminal illness played a prominent role in the couple’s decision to marry and in the ensuing legal battle. He and Obergefell had been a couple since 1992 but decided to marry after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision striking down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
“We had talked about getting married, and we never ever felt it would be anything more than symbolic because of the nature of our country,” Mr. Arthur said in an interview shortly before the wedding.
But as they watched coverage of the Supreme Court decision from Mr. Arthur’s medical bed in the couple’s Cincinnati-area condo, they decided that the potential for federal recognition was enough to pursue a legal marriage.
Because Ohio has a constitutional ban on same-sex weddings, they had to travel to one of the 13 states that allow gay couples to marry. But their decision was complicated by the fact that Mr. Arthur was bedridden and unable to travel except on a medical transport plane. They settled on Maryland because his partner could obtain a marriage license by himself, requiring Mr. Arthur to travel just once.
On July 11 they flew to Baltimore International Airport on a Lear jet that friends and family had donated to rent for the trip. After a 71/2-minute ceremony on the tarmac, the couple flew back to Cincinnati.
A few days after their wedding the couple were contacted by civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, who had been working on challenges to Ohio’s marriage ban. Several days later they filed a lawsuit in federal court in Cincinnati against the state and the city of Cincinnati, claiming that failure to recognize their marriage violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, because Ohio recognized other marriages performed outside the state that Ohio itself banned, such as marriages between first cousins or minors.
Mr. Arthur’s terminal illness allowed the case to move more quickly through the court. It also allowed Gerhardstein to argue that the couple would face “irreparable harm” if Mr. Arthur was listed as single on his death certificate. Additionally, Mr. Arthur’s family cemetery plot is limited to direct descendants and their spouses, so the question of recognizing their marriage also was likely to influence where he was buried and whether his partner could someday be buried next to him.
Cincinnati officials decided not to challenge the couple’s case but Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine defended the state’s ban, which a majority of Ohio voters approved in 2004. Federal Judge Timothy Black issued a temporary order requiring that Mr. Arthur be listed as married on his death certificate and Obergefell be named his surviving spouse.
Mr. Arthur was born in Chicago in 1965.