Ohio Couple Drops Lawsuit Over Gay Marriage Ban
A gay married couple in Ohio who had trouble getting family coverage under the federal health care law said Friday they have voluntarily dismissed their lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban.
Al Cowger Jr. and Tony Wesley Jr. of suburban Cleveland said in the lawsuit filed last month that Ohio’s ban, passed by voters in 2004, was preventing them and their 8-year-old adopted daughter from enrolling in a family policy under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
They sued the state of Ohio and U.S. government after hours-long phone calls and months of trying to get a family plan through the federal insurance marketplace.
Their attorney said Friday the couple obtained a family policy this week after going through the federal website, HealthCare.gov. Their plan takes effect in April.
"I can’t tell you exactly where the hang up was," said Al Gerhardstein, the couple’s attorney. "I think maybe it just needed that spotlight that came from this case and from the inquiries, and then the wheels got greased."
Other lawsuits seeking state recognition of gay marriages on death and birth certificates are pending. An effort also is underway to ask Ohio voters this fall to overturn the ban.
Cowger and Wesley, who have been together for 28 years, married in New York in 2012.
Coverage for the couple and their daughter comes after the Obama administration issued guidance to insurers this month, telling them that if they offer spousal coverage to heterosexual couples, they cannot deny it to legally married same-sex couples. The policy does not become a requirement until next year.
But the Ohio insurer, Medical Mutual of Ohio, already offered family coverage to same-sex couples both on and off the health insurance marketplace.
In their lawsuit, Cowger, a retired attorney, said he talked to help-desk personnel with HealthCare.gov who told him that he and Wesley had been approved for family coverage in the marketplace. But a problem surfaced when the representative tried to purchase the policy and couldn’t. Cowger said he was then told he could not get family coverage because Ohio does not recognize his marriage. The couple had to sign up for individual plans for themselves and their daughter, each subject to individual deductibles and premiums.
Cowger said they were finally able to switch to one policy on Monday.
"This time we got to the very end, and sure enough, it worked," he said in a telephone interview on Friday.
Previously, he said, he would get to a screen on the federal website that would direct him to call the help desk. Then, he would be on the phone for two or three hours before coming to a dead end.
With the family policy, Cowger said, their total monthly premium did not change but they did get a larger tax credit. Plus, he said, "The fact that we’re paying one deductible instead of three is very significant."
Cowger said getting the family policy was bittersweet.
"The state of Ohio still won’t recognize our marriage for any other purpose."