Couples file federal lawsuit challenging Ohio gay marriage ban

Wed Apr 30, 2014 2:42pm EDT

(Reuters) - Six Ohio same-sex couples on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage, joining advocates in several states seeking to make gay nuptials legal through the courts.

The challenge to Ohio's ban, which was adopted in 2004, follows a federal judge's ruling earlier in April that the state must recognize gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

U.S. Judge Timothy Black's ruling ordering Ohio to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed elsewhere has been put on hold while Ohio appeals the decision.

Black had said in his ruling he found no reasonable basis to exclude same-sex marriages from being performed in Ohio. He was not asked to address that issue in the lawsuit.

Attorney Jennifer Branch, who represents the six couples in the lawsuit filed on Wednesday, said they want to marry. Some have been engaged for years, but are barred from marrying in their home state surrounded by friends and family, she said.

"Ohio's unequal treatment of these couples is unconstitutional and cannot continue," Branch said in a statement. "Nobody's constitutional rights can be voted away."

The couples also are seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. "Without access to marriage these plaintiffs and their children are treated as second class citizens," the lawsuit said.

Lead plaintiff Michelle Gibson has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. She and her partner Deborah Meem want their relationship of 19 years recognized in part for health care and financial decisions, and for their grandchildren.

The lawsuit says the couples are denied tax benefits available to opposite sex couples who can marry, lack access to other financial benefits, and also lack the recognition as partners needed in medical emergencies.

Momentum has grown toward expanding marriage rights for same-sex couples since the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that legally married gay couples were eligible for federal benefits.

Seventeen states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. That number would increase sharply if federal court rulings striking down bans in several states, including neighboring Michigan, are upheld on appeal.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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