One year later gay marriage ruling’s impact still difficult to gauge

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Jim McKinnon and Tom Humbert of Oakwood discuss hearing the news last year of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling removing all bans to same-sex marriage.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Legal battles continue even as thousands tie knot.

Continuing coverage

This newspaper has closely followed the legal and legislative battles over same-sex marriage for years. For past coverage, go to myDaytonDailyNews.com.

An estimated 123,000 gay and lesbian couples have married in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court gave its blessing to same-sex marriages, and the number of Americans who support gay marriage has continued to rise.

But even though the ban on gay marriage was lifted in Ohio and 12 other states as a result of the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision on June 26, 2015, ongoing legislative and legal battles have yet to fully define the ruling’s impact.

“(LGBT) couples that get married on Saturday can go to work on Monday, and by revealing their new marital status, be fired,” said Roselyn Runnels of Beavercreek. “It’s not the kind of thing that you walk around all the time obsessing about, by any means. It’s just an awareness that you have all the time, that there are rights that other people have that we don’t enjoy.”

Just as LGBT couples call out continued discrimination, some fear the court's decision will bring irreparable harm to heterosexual marriages and draw an onslaught of discrimination lawsuits aimed at those who say their conscience or religious beliefs won't allow them to provide services to gay and lesbian couples.

“We continue to stand by our original position that this was an erroneous decision and a decision lacking legal precedent,” said Joe Grabowski, a spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage. “We think down the road, teaching kids that there’s nothing unique or special about a mother or a father – that parents are interchangeable as just ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ – that is going to have profound effects on future generations and their understanding of what marriage is and their ambition to enter into that unique union.”

But those who married during the last year or whose marriages became legal in the state due to the federal decision say those fears haven’t materialized.

“I’m not sure what all was expected to happen and how people of the same gender being together would have ever, ever compromised the institution of marriage. But I don’t see any evidence of that,” said Rick Incorvati, a founding member of Equality Springfield whose 2013 marriage in New York is now recognized in Ohio. “People who are opposed to gay and lesbian protections of any kind are apt to use fear.”

‘It’s just a marriage’

Statistics show a clear and quick increase in same-sex marriages since the ruling, particularly in the states where bans on same-sex marriages were in place.

According to Gallup Daily Tracking polls, 49 percent of all same-sex couples cohabitating are married — up from 38 percent a year ago.

The number of same-sex people married in the U.S. is now estimated at nearly 1 million — more than the entire population of Austin, Texas.

Runnels married her long-time partner, Judy Nablo, just days after the ruling.

“The right to marry legitimizes our 29-year relationship,” Nablo said. “Marriage means we gain certain federal rights, but also recognizes our time and commitment. It feels different and is different.”

RJ McKay and Todd Figgins were together for 18 years before their mothers walked them down the aisle during a “dream wedding” at the Dayton Art Institute in April.

“It’s something we’ll never forget,” McKay said.

Kim and Jocelyn Gaynor of Springfield had their ceremony two weeks ago. It came three years after Kim took the last name of her long-time partner and nearly nine years after they became a couple.

The two women have raised Kim’s daughter, Amelia, since she was 4.

“I’ve watched my sister get married and other people and family and (Kim’s) sister get married and we were not afforded that luxury,” Jocelyn said. “And our daughter, she wants us to be married. She wants to know her parents are married.”

Tom Humbert and Jim McKinnon of Oakwood, too, were together nine years before their February marriage.

“I think people are finally realizing that it’s just like any other marriage,” McKinnon said. “It’s not a same-sex marriage, it’s not a gay marriage, it’s just a marriage.”

Ohio test case

It was an Ohio couple, Cincinnatians James Obergefell and partner John Arthur, who provided the test case that would lead the Supreme Court to remove the last legal roadblock to same-sex marriage.

The state had voted in 2004 to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. That case, bundled with others, went before the Supreme Court and served as the definitive statement about whether marriage could only take place among people of the opposite sex.

The 5-4 ruling came long after Arthur died on Oct. 22, 2013.

Although the Ohio law became part of the national discussion, it’s not clear how many gay and lesbian Ohioans have tied the knot since the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was lifted. Marriage licenses in Ohio make no distinction between same-sex and heterosexual couples.

Nationally, 9.6 percent of LGBT adults say they are married to a same-sex spouse, an increase from 7.9 percent before the ruling, according to Gallup polls.

Since Ohio was one of the states that previously banned gay marriage, it is reasonable to conclude that the increase was greater here.

Same-sex couples are still a small percentage of the state’s population. Tabulations using 2010 U.S. Census data showed 19,684 same-sex couples living in Ohio.

Recent polling indicates the number of same-sex marriages may be plateauing as older, committed couples have already taken advantage of the expanded marriage laws.

‘Deeply moral issue’

The past two decades have seen a monumental shift in the proportion of Americans opposing and those supporting gay marriage. It has nearly flipped. Now a majority – six in 10 Americans – say they support same-sex marriage. Despite those numbers, LGBT advocates say fear of discrimination persists.

There are no state protections for gays and lesbians against discrimination when it comes to employment, housing or public accommodations, Runnels said.

Those with strong religious convictions say they, too, have become targets for discrimination if they refuse to serve a gay couple at a business or house of worship.

“This is a deeply moral issue for a lot of people,” said State Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, who has sponsored the Ohio Pastor Protection Act. The bill would prevent ministers or religious societies from being sued for refusing to host or solemnize a marriage that doesn’t conform to a church’s religious beliefs.

“It’s really an anti-litigation bill. What we have with the Obergefell decision is what you would call very divergent opinions,” Vitale said. “We’ve had a very litigious environment with this homosexual marriage issue. What I’m trying to do is either not allow (litigation) to happen in Ohio or reduce it from happening in Ohio so we don’t have people in courts over this issue.”

Pitched battles over legislation like the transgender bathroom bill in North Carolina have made recent headlines, but other fights simmering in statehouses, including in Columbus, show some people may not yet be ready to accept gays, lesbians and transgender Americans as equals, say LGBT activists.

Twenty-one states currently have Religious Freedom Restoration Acts on the books with 10 more state legislatures currently pondering the idea, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Randy Phillips, president of the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, said while marriage is now legal for same-sex couples, other barriers remain for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender Americans to be fully accepted by some.

“You can be evicted from your home or public accommodations for that very reason,” Phillips said. “So there’s a lot of discrimination that’s still happening all throughout Ohio.”

Changing laws

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, family status or disability at the federal level, but the list does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

At least 17 states have expanded laws to protect gay, lesbian and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.

Several bills introduced in the Ohio legislature aim to add protections including one by Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, the state’s first openly gay legislator serving in the Ohio General Assembly.

“Members of the LGBT community should have full citizenship and equality,” Antonio said. “So for those of us in the community and part of the community, that’s important. But it’s also important for the broader community to live in a society where everyone is treated equally.”

The bills haven’t received much traction in the Republican-dominated legislature. A bill proposed by Licking County Republican Rep. Bill Hayes attempts to bridge the divide with a number of religious exemptions, but appears to be a non-starter in the LGBT community because it fails to include gender identity protections.

The stalemate at the state level has led to some Ohio municipalities to take matters into their own hands, including Dayton and Yellow Springs, which have folded additional nondiscrimination ordinances into their codes. Only nine other Ohio cities offer protections against discrimination in employment and housing based both on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Nablo, 68, and wife Runnels, 65, aren’t covered by such ordinances because of where they live. Though both are retired and workplace discrimination is no longer a worry for them, they are concerned about younger generations.

“Any number of gay or lesbian folks live their lives, not necessarily waiting for the next shoe to drop, but cognizant all the time that they don’t have the protections that they need to feel safe,” Nablo said. “People need to have confidence that they can live their lives as openly as they choose to. Not only is it economically devastating, but emotionally it is very difficult.”

‘We’re not hurting anyone’

Some gay couples encounter resistance even within their own families.

Jocelyn Gaynor’s mother and stepfather refused to come to her wedding and she hasn’t spoken to her mom since.

“They love Kim and they love Amelia,” she said. “But when it came down to us actually getting married, that was not OK. They did not attend the wedding based on their religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

She said theirs is a normal family in every respect.

“We cook dinner. We go to work. We cut the grass. We pray every night,” she said. “We have a 13-year-old, so we deal with attitudes and rooms and messes and everything that everyone else deals with. We’re not hurting anyone. And we have no intentions of destroying their religious establishments. We just want to live our life and be happy like anyone else.”

It is part of the changing times, perhaps, that none of Amelia’s friends or their parents seem to bat an eye at their marriage. Nor are they the only lesbian couple raising children that attend Amelia’s school.

“A lot of her friends come over here and stay the night. Swarms of girls. And their parents know,” Jocelyn, 39, said. “It just seems that the younger generation, our age and obviously her age aren’t as discriminatory as the older generation of people.”

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