Toledo advocates cheer high court's rulings in gay rights cases

Rainbow flags are on display during the 2011 Toledo Pride parade.
Rainbow flags are on display during the 2011 Toledo Pride parade.

Toledo gay-marriage advocates today cheered a U.S. Supreme Court decision that legally married same-sex and heterosexual couples should receive the same federal benefits.

The court’s rulings set the stage for same-sex California couples to marry and invalidated a federal Defense of Marriage Act provision that barred married, same-sex couples from receiving various health, tax, and retirement benefits.

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Local support for the rulings came from various quarters -- from advocate groups to local politicians.

David Mann, a Toledo attorney and a founding member of the group Equality Toledo, hailed the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act as a "victory for equal rights" and "a step closer to full equality" for same-sex couples.

"The Supreme Court has once again affirmed that America has no second-class citizens," he said. "It's not the end of the battle, but it's certainly a very good start."

The action, he added, provides a strong foundation for states like Ohio that still exclude same-sex couples from marriage.

"For what this means for Ohio, we'll just have to wait and see," Mr. Mann said. "Ohio continues to permit discrimination in employment and housing, but the Supreme Court's decision is certainly the right step to keep the progress move forward."

Shannon Frye, who serves as executive director of group Rainbow Area Youth Toledo, lauded the Supreme Court's ruling, calling it a "wonderful vindication" for gay youth and their families.

"I'm extremely grateful -- I can't wait to tell the kids," Mr. Frye said.

She added that the Court's decision on the Defense of Marriage Act will help to combat the societal stigma surrounding same-sex couples.

"This ruling is not going to be a panacea for homophobia: we're going to have to do it state by state, community by community," Ms. Frye said. "But hopefully it will enable people to fight their battle on a day-to-day basis with more confidence and with the security to know that the law is on their side."

While federal and California bans on same-sex marriage are dead, Ohio’s ban stands.

Nothing in the pair of rulings issued today by the U.S. Supreme Court would require Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned elsewhere, although a petition effort continues to try to change that.

Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, the group trying to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014, said the group is “elated” the Supreme Court repealed the federal Defense of Marriage Act and rejected California’s Proposition 8.

“This is proof that the tide of acceptance for all couples is turning in this country,” he said. “These are two more important steps toward true equality. It’s important to remember this moment does not change the reality that Ohio still won’t recognize same-gender marriage. Only Ohio can address the civil rights issue of this generation.”

But backers of Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the state also found something to cheer in the decisions.

“This is a win for states’ rights,” said Charles Tassell, assistant to the president of Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, the organization that spearheaded Ohio's 2004 constitutional amendment.

"Justice Roberts makes the comment specifically in the Prop 8 decision, that this is going to be an ongoing debate for states," he said. "Justice Kennedy references it in DOMA, saying that marriage and domestic issues have been the proper right of states. So this will be an ongoing discussion, and we’re happy to participate in that.”

In 2004, while voters were re-electing President George W. Bush over John Kerry, Ohio amended its constitution to prohibit Ohio from recognizing same-sex marriages recognized in other states and barring government from offering the same benefits to same-sex and unmarried couples that approximate those of legally married couples.

The high court struck down California’s Proposition 8, through which voters rejected a court decision to the contrary by enacting their own ban on same-sex marriage. But the court threw out the case on a legal technicality without addressing the heart of the issue, leaving in place a lower court ruling that invalidated the state constitutional amendment.

The ruling that struck down DOMA affects access to federal recognition of same-sex marriages now legally sanctioned by 12 states and District of Columbia. It does not force a state like Ohio to accept those marriages as well.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, who also serves as state representative for Ottawa and Erie counties, immediately sent out a fund-raising e-mail hailing the decision.

“Today's ruling is a historic victory in our ongoing effort to protect love and push for equality for all,” he wrote. “Ohio Democrats are proud to continue to stand with our LGBT brothers and sisters in this fight. But despite today's victory, you can be certain our work is not done and this battle is looming in Ohio.”