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Federal court rules Arizona must recognize widower’s gay marriage

Jennifer Pizer, attorney for Lambda Legal, discusses Friday's hearing on behalf of Fred McQuire, seated, to be listed as the surviving spouse of the man he married in California. With them is Patrick Ralph who also found himself in the same legal position after his spouse died.  (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Jennifer Pizer, attorney for Lambda Legal, discusses Friday’s hearing on behalf of Fred McQuire, seated, to be listed as the surviving spouse of the man he married in California. With them is Patrick Ralph who also found himself in the same legal position after his spouse died. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

A federal judge this afternoon ordered the state to issue a death certificate for George Martinez that lists Fred McQuire as his legal spouse.

Judge John Sedwick rejected arguments by attorneys for state that the “public interest” would be harmed by requiring Arizona to recognize the pair were legally married in July in California. Martinez died a month later.

Sedwick was careful to spell out that today’s ruling is limited solely to McQuire and does not mean that other Arizona couples who were legally married elsewhere are entitled to have their unions recognized here. That fight remains for another day.

But that other day could come soon for Arizona: Sedwick is currently considering lawsuit seeking to overturn the state law and the 2008 voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman. And the judge, to be able to grant McQuire’s request, had to conclude that those challenging the ban ultimately likely to succeed.

Today’s ruling may not help McQuire with one thing he was hoping to get: the veteran and Social Security benefits from Martinez that normally would go to a spouse, money he said he needs to keep the couple’s Green Valley home.

Attorney Jennifer Pizer said that is because federal law requires marriages to be of a certain length to prevent “sham” weddings solely for benefits. But Pizer said that, armed with today’s ruling, she intends to challenge that limit as it applies to gay couples whose home state has thrown roadblocks in their path.

In this case, she said, McQuire and Martinez were together and lived as spouses for 45 years, with only the Arizona law preventing them from being called married.

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