Springfield gay rights, church leaders react to marriage decision

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Friday that the U.S. Constitution requires states to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples and recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Equality Springfield President Rick Incorvati said. “It’s an extraordinary feeling to be validated.”

But state Rep. Kyle Koehler said marriage wasn’t redefined on Friday, but rather undefined and will lead to fewer families with a mother and father.

“As far as I’m concerned, the traditional family structure is under attack,” Koehler said. “Marriage can be anything now.”

A few people inquired about same-sex marriage licenses at the Clark County Probate County on Friday, staff members said. But no same-sex couples applied for licenses at either the Clark or Champaign County probate courts.

Springfield native Dawn Mount is “thrilled beyond belief,” about the ruling, which she never thought would come this soon. She was still in shock hours later, she said.

“It seems ridiculous we’ve had to wait so long,” Mount said.

Earlier this month, Mount, a South High School graduate, and her partner, Graham High School grad Alex Howell, held a commitment ceremony after two years of dating. After Friday’s ruling, they’re already planning to legalize their marriage.

The ruling extends the legal rights of marriage to same-sex couples, such as inheritance and hospital visitation. Howell’s former partner died of cancer eight years ago, she said, and she had no rights to certain property because they weren’t legally unified.

“Now we have the ability to have that equal partnership,” Howell said. “It’s not up to the family members.”

Springfield residents Jocelyn and Kimberly Gaynor, who have been together for seven years, plan to wed on Oct. 3. While most of their family is excited about the wedding, some relatives are still struggling with the marriage due to religious beliefs.

“We’ve been waiting for a long time,” Jocelyn Gaynor said. “We’re very excited to be able to unify our family.”

The couple changed their names a few years ago because it was easier to do certain things with their daughter, 12-year-old Amelia, at school or the doctor’s office. The family is featured currently by Equality Springfield on a billboard on the Spring Street overpass with the saying “Love Makes a Family.”

But marriage is defined by a much higher court than the Supreme Court, Koehler said, which overturned the gay marriage ban Ohioans overwhelmingly supported in 2004.

“My concern is for the family and for children in the fact that if the family structure no longer exists, what’s it going to look like in 20 years?” Koehler said.

Many of Incorvati’s friends have been married in other states. Now same-sex couples will have the opportunity to be married near friends and family in their hometowns — which he said will be a boost to the quality of life in Ohio.

“A wedding is standing in front of your friends and family and saying: ‘We are making this commitment to each other, stand with us,’” Incorvati said.

Mayor Warren Copeland celebrated the decision for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Springfield. Earlier this week, he said he would marry same-sex couples. He also understands some people won’t be happy with the ruling.

“We live in a democracy,” Copeland said. “People have a right to their opinion.”

Religious institutions won’t be forced to be supportive, Copeland said.

“Those who have strong feelings have a right to those feelings and certainly the government shouldn’t force them to perform marriages if they don’t believe in them,” Copeland said.

The ruling wasn’t surprising, said Rev. Dan Powell of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church. The decision was based on the justices’ interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, he said, not the holy scripture — which he said guides the ministry at Grace.

“They did what they believed was best,” Powell said. “As a nation, it’s challenging that it was a 5-4 vote, which means one vote would’ve made it go the other direction.”

Powell told the News-Sun earlier this week he didn’t plan to perform same-sex marriages, should it be legalized. Each clergy member will have to make that decision based on what they believe is best, he said.

First Christian Church, which has about 2,500 members, doesn’t plan to perform same-sex marriages either, Director of Administration Paul Slagle said.

“We continue to support the Bible,” Slagle said. “We believe it’s correct and we believe it’s the word of God, so that’s what we follow.”

The ruling, however, doesn’t change the fact that while LGBT couples can be married, they can still be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, Incorvati said. It’s past time for the city of Springfield to amend its anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Nothing has changed there,” Incorvati said.

In 2012, commissioners voted 3-2 against amending those codes after debating the topic for months. Opponents said supporters couldn’t produce specific cases of discrimination in Springfield.

The Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling might not rekindle that debate, Incorvati said, but will certainly encourage it.

“I hope the rest of our Christian community will get behind the right to not be fired, will get behind the right not to be evicted and will stop using the Christian faith to promote bigotry,” he said.

Copeland is unsure if the ruling will spark more debate on the city codes. He’s had no discussion with city staff members about it. The city’s Human Relations Board raised concerns about it recently, but the issue hasn’t reached the city commission at this point.

Equality Springfield was created five years ago to promote fair treatment and equal opportunity of LGBT residents. Earlier this month, the group held the first Springfield Pride Festival at City Hall Plaza, which was met by a large crowd and no protesters.

“It was probably our finest moment as an organization,” Incorvati said.

The justices made their decision based on their own desires, not the letter of the law or the framework of the constitution, said U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana. He is co-sponsoring the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill which would prevent federal agencies from discriminating against any individual, association or business based on their marriage views.

“I am also concerned that this ruling opens the door for discrimination against those who believe in traditional marriage, and I believe Congress must work to ensure that no American is forced to violate their beliefs on this important issue, to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their beliefs, can co-exist peacefully,” Jordan said in a statement.