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Published: Saturday, 2/7/2004

Lack of legality doesn t affect ties that bind, couples say

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA AND RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Lisa Smith and Jodi Stacey have lived together in Huron, Ohio, for four years. Legally, the two women are nothing more than roommates, but in their hearts, they are married with children.

“As long as a couple loves each other and wants to be together, and be as normal as possible, why would [the state] try and stop that?” Ms. Smith said yesterday of Ohio s new Defense of Marriage Act. “To everyone else, it s not an actual marriage, but to us and our families, it s a marriage.”

Same-sex couples in the region say their feelings are simple, but their lives are complicated by not having the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples. The measure signed into law yesterday by Gov. Bob Taft prohibits same-sex unions from being recognized as marriages in Ohio.

“For me, I feel like we get to be half-citizens,” Ms. Stacey said.

Ms. Smith said her job offers good benefits, but her health insurance does not cover her partner s daughter. She said the insurance carrier is unfairly discriminating against same-sex couples because they lack marriage licenses.

Ann Spencer, who lives in South Toledo with her partner, has similar troubles.

“To the powers that be, our relationship is completely meaningless. My partner can t get health insurance through my job,” Ms. Spencer said. “I just want to fit in and be, if not accepted, at least respected.”

She and her partner, who have been together more than 20 years, have wills and legal documents giving each other power to make decisions in case of a medical emergency, but Ms. Spencer fears that relatives could successfully oppose these documents.

“There could be disastrous results if a catastrophe happens and decisions have to be made,” she said. “We deserve some rights in order to be protected.”

Toledo Council President Louis Escobar is gay and has been with his partner for 15 years. He said the state s new law promotes intolerance.

“There are some people who feel allowing gays and lesbians to marry is somehow an assault on marriage,” Mr. Escobar said. “People are saying the institution of marriage is falling apart, yet gays and lesbians have not been allowed to be a part of that, so how can they be blamed for it falling apart?”

Craig Knef, who lives in Sandusky with his partner of more than five years, Chris Farrell, said he thinks allowing gays and lesbians to wed would strengthen the concept of marriage in the United States.

“We had our commitment ceremony on Dec. 1, 2001, and it pretty much is the closest thing to a wedding we could do,” Mr. Knef said. “If by some chance that whole ban gets reversed, I hope that what we did two years ago will be finally recognized.”

Ian James and Stephen Letourneau jumped at the opportunity to get married when Canada legalized gay marriage last year.

The Columbus couple proudly boasts that they were the first men from Ohio to be married in Canada.

“My husband and I have been together for over four and a half years and we share a house, a mortgage, two dogs, and all the responsibilities that go with that,” Mr. James said. “We would never suggest that any religious institution should have to recognize or perform a ceremony of marriage, but we must insist that we be given the right that other loving couples receive - to have a civil marriage in the United States.”

Some same-sex couples just steer clear of the gay marriage debate.

Cindy and Tina, a South Toledo couple who asked that their last names not be used because of fears about harassment, say they are too busy raising their young daughter to protest the new state law.

“At this point in my life, it really doesn t matter what anyone else thinks,” Cindy said. “They can say you can t do this and that, but they can t stop us from being happy.”



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