Gay marriage in Ohio… don’t hold your breath

Although gay marriage has won recent battles across the nation, Ohioans are still left wondering “When is our turn?”

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Yana Grinblat, left, and her girlfriend of two and a half years, Kelsey Robinson. Photo by Amy Loomis.

Neither of the brides wore white. The guy officiating lacked a license to marry. The ceremony itself lasted about five minutes.

This wedding is a sham, but not for any of these reasons. Well, except the second one.

The wedding—called an “uncivil union”—was a demonstration organized by the Kent State Liberty Alliance in support of same-sex marriage.  The brides were Yana Grinblat, senior architecture major, and Kelsey Robinson, a Kent State alumna.

The girls chose to do the Oct. 12 wedding for many reasons near and dear to their hearts, including the fact that it was their two and a half year anniversary. Yet the most important reason was also the simplest.

“I did it because I’m [in] love with my girlfriend,” Robinson says, shrugging her shoulders.

Unmarried in Ohio, and probably staying that way

According to research from Equality Ohio, it is true, statistically speaking, that Ohio is second to last in terms of basic equality laws. Ohio is among a group of states with an additional obstacle against gay marriage legislation.

Along with 29 other states, Ohio has a constitutional ban on marriage between members of the same sex. Ohio’s constitution even bans civil unions.

Because of the 2004 ban, Ohio voters would have to amend the state constitution first before state legislators could do anything about marriage equality.

“We’ve got this additional hurdle,” says Kim Welter, the director of programs and outreach at Equality Ohio. “It’s an incredible hurdle because we have to have voters.”

In May, marriage equality supporters reached a milestone when 53 percent of Americans said they favored gay marriage, according to a Washington Post/ABC News Poll. This was the first time a national poll documented majority support for same-sex marriage. However, Welter says, polls don’t always measure approval among Americans who actually vote.

Nor do national polls reflect the social attitudes of Ohio residents.

Eric Hammer, 46, a member of the board of directors at LGBT Cleveland, who has been with his unmarried partner for 20 years, says he has seen a lot more support for same-sex couples in Ohio. But, maybe not enough.

“I would like to think that people are more accepting of [same-sex marriage],” Hammer says.

Welter estimates it could require around 10,000 volunteer hours and $12 million for a repeal effort. Success would be crucial because the campaign couldn’t be easily repeated.

“The money just isn’t there,” Welter says.

That’s only the first step. Once voters lift the constitutional ban, then it would have to be taken to the legislature for a gay marriage vote.

“I don’t even think we could get a Democrat to vote for marriage, let alone the Republicans,” Welter says.

Welter says Ohio would have to wait until Republicans no longer control either house or until those Republicans have shifted their viewpoints.

In other words, it could be quite a long time.

Coping and hoping

Photo by Amy Loomis.

Although the constitutional ban is what legislatively makes Ohio’s effort different from New York’s campaign, which succeeded this summer, there are a slew of other things that keep our state far away from accepting gay marriage.

Welter says Ohio doesn’t have the foundation of crucial anti-discriminatory practices to approach something as large as marriage.

For example, New York has had a sexual orientation non-discrimination act since 2003. This protects from discrimination in employment, housing and many other areas.

As an organization, Equality Ohio is focused on passing a similar act.

“Right now we still have a culture that [thinks] it’s okay to discriminate,” Welter says.

Welter hopes that an equal housing and employment act would be passed by 2014, and then after that, the organization would move onto other things like bullying. She says these kinds of issues should be the main focus of marriage equality advocates.

“We need to have people talking to [legislators] about something they can do something about,” Welter says.

Though the state is lagging behind, many cities in Ohio, including Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, have domestic partner registries so that couples have proof of their commitment. This is particularly helpful for things like domestic partner benefits that have been made available by many employers.

Photo by Amy Loomis.

Hammer and his partner are registered as domestic partners in Cleveland Heights.  Hammer is employed as an accountant for Cuyahoga County, and through his employer he is offered partner benefits that are heavily taxed by the federal government. Fortunately, his partner is insured through his own employer, and they don’t have to utilize the benefits.

To Hammer and his partner, a legal marriage would only make things more “iron-clad from a legal standpoint.”

The pair had a spiritual commitment ceremony in 2000, attended by their friends and family.

“We have a commitment to each other,” Hammer says. “It wouldn’t change that.”

The faux-brides, Robinson and Grinblat, believe marriage equality is something they will see happen.

Robinson said one of the biggest steps is to “put better people in government.”

“I feel like it will be a generational thing,” Grinblat says.

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