As important to the cause of gay rights as Wednesday’s Supreme Court decisions seemed to be, the rulings will have little tangible impact on the day-to-day lives of gay and lesbian couples in Ohio.
And that may not soon change.
Gay marriage remains illegal in Ohio, which means same-sex couples here do not have the same rights the Supreme Court conferred to couples in states that have gay marriage.
“It weighs on me,” said Mary Batiuk of Kettering, who is in a committed relationship with her partner Joyce Dean.
Gay marriage remains a deeply polarizing issue in America, and not one resolved by the Supreme Court’s pair of 5-4 decisions this week. Each side has their arguments, but the patchwork of laws across the country has created frustration on both sides.
“Probably neither side is happy,” said Warren County conservative activist Lori Viars. “We’re going on a path a lot of well-meaning people don’t see the consequences. I do think it will diminish the sanctity of marriage.”
Robert Smith of Springboro is concerned the ruling could have a negatively lasting impact. “This causes the next generation to move further away from what the Bible says, based on the culture of the day,” he said. “We continually move further away from God’s word. It scares me for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Many gay couples, however, say the state’s ban directly affects their lives, both emotionally and financially. “There are more than 1,000 benefits that my partner and I aren’t eligible for, even though we’ve been together for 38 years,” said Robert Matthew Di-Angelo, 63, of Troy. “A heterosexual couple gets those benefits on the day they get married.”
Batiuk and Dean say their lives are so ordinary, they’re downright boring. They like to garden, golf, go to the symphony, hang out with the grandkids. They pay their taxes, give back to their community. But in other ways their lives are very different from others their age: They are not permitted to marry in Ohio, and they are denied numerous rights and privileges that would come with being legally married. Batiuk worries about practical matters such as inheritance taxes, health care benefits and the right to make medical decisions regarding their partners.
“Will they let us in the home together?” Batiuk asked. “Will they let us in the cemetery together?”
Like many gay couples, they are angered about the unequal treatment. “It’s unconscionable,” Dean said. “We pay into Social Security and we pay the same taxes. Why shouldn’t my surviving spouse have the same benefits? It’s unbelievably hurtful to be rejected by the community when you have contributed so much.”
Jerry Mallicoat of Springboro, 52, is frustrated the ruling still does not help him in Ohio. “I went to college, got good grades, gave back to the community and society — I’ve done all the things I was supposed to do — but I don’t have the same rights as a heterosexual person,” he said. “It was driven home rather poignantly when I went to the Liberty Bell and I was standing there with other tourists and reading the inscription that talks about freedom for everybody. I wanted to shout, ‘But not for me!’”
Legalizing same-sex marriage would go a long way toward healing that psychological wound, Batiuk said: “It seeps so deeply into our psyches that you are not OK, and unfortunately there’s nothing you can do nothing about it. Changing the law would be telling us that we aren’t broken, we are whole.”
Viars said that opponents of same-sex marriage also are worried about discrimination. “The biggest concern is the impact on religious freedom for Christians,” Viars said. “There’s a florist who’s being sued because he wasn’t comfortable being part of a gay wedding. This opens up a Pandora’s box of problems.”
Like many other gay couples, Batiuk and Dean will consider moving to another state if gay marriage isn’t legalized eventually. “If this hasn’t turned around in another 10 years this hasn’t moved around, we might move,” Dean said. “I have love for Ohio, but I don’t know if it has love for me.”
Mallicoat’s partner, John Cummings, said they also would consider leaving Ohio: “Moving is an option down the road, but I still see this as home and would hate to leave.”
Ohioans now support gay marriage by a slight majority, according to recent polls. An April Quinnipiac University poll showed that 48 percent of Ohioans support same-sex marriage, with 44 percent opposing. Only four months earlier, 47 percent of Ohioans opposed gay marriage while 45 percent supported it.
The latest Pew Center Research shows that 67 percent of Americans favor legal agreements that give the same rights to gay and lesbian couples, but only 51 percent support same-sex marriage. “It’s an interesting dilemma, because there seems to be a growing consensus on legal agreements that give same-sex couples the same rights as marriage, but more disagreement about marriage itself,” said Dan Birdsong, a political science lecturer at the University of Dayton.
Opponents of same-sex marriage are particularly troubled by the high percentages of young people who support it, Birdsong said: “It’s unsettling if it strikes at your religious or moral code. Some people see this as a society doing something very wrong, something the founding fathers wouldn’t like.”
Joe Delaney of Bellbrook is raising his 14-year-old adopted son, Chance, with his partner, Jason Bush. Although Bush was named legal guardian, he wasn’t allowed to adopt the boy and can’t claim him as a tax deduction. “It’s very unfair,” Delaney said, “because Jason contributes a lot of his time and money.”
The couple is thinking about getting married this summer in Massachusetts —the first state to legalize gay marriage — but they aren’t sure whether that would grant them legal benefits in Ohio. “There’s a lot we don’t know yet,” Delaney said. “Jason and I care very much for each other, and it would be nice to have the same privileges as other couples.”
See video reactions to the Supreme Court’s rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act at MyDaytonDailyNews.com.