UPDATE, 06/26 10:15 am: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Read more here.
Cincinnati is at the center of what may be the defining moment for same-sex marriage in America. Before the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on Obergefell vs. Hodges, a series of cases involving same-sex couples in Ohio and three other states. The named plaintiff is Over-the-Rhine resident Jim Obergefell, and other Cincinnati-area couples are also involved in the historic case.
The U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals here set up the Supreme Court showdown when it upheld Ohio’s 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as well as similar bans in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. That flew in the face of a number of decisions by other federal circuit courts across the country, which have struck down the bans and extended the right to marry to same-sex couples. Currently, 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state that allows same-sex marriage. Only 13 states, including Ohio, do not.
Soon, the Supreme Court will rule on the disagreement between lower courts. Its ruling could decide once and for all if states are constitutionally allowed to forbid same-sex marriage, or it could take the lesser step of ordering states to simply recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Gay rights activists say the bans are unconstitutional and compare the struggle for marriage equality with battles over civil rights. Lawyers for states seeking to keep their bans, including Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, argue that the matter is up to voters, not a judge.
The repercussions of the bans extend from birth to death. Ohio’s ban keeps the state from recognizing official documents like birth and death certificates for marriages performed in the 37 states in which same-sex marriage is legal.
Plaintiffs Brittani Henry-Rogers and Brittni Rogers of Golf Manor met in 2008 and decided they’d like to start a family, so Henry-Rogers underwent artificial insemination to become pregnant. The two married in New York in January 2014. Their son, Jayseon, was born that June. Both want to be listed on his birth certificate, but Ohio forbids that.
“Blood couldn’t make us any closer,” Rogers told CityBeat after the U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals heard arguments about their case last July.
In a 2-1 ruling, the Sixth Circuit court in Cincinnati sided with the state. An appeal to that ruling became part of the pending Supreme Court case. Plaintiffs say the magnitude of the court’s pending ruling is hard to fathom.
“It’s hard for me to emotionally grasp that,” says Obergefell. “On an intellectual level, I do a little, but it just doesn’t seem real.”
Obergefell’s fight for marriage equality began when he sought to be listed on his husband John Arthur’s death certificate. Because Ohio forbade same-sex marriage, the two flew to Maryland to wed in 2013. Arthur was terminally ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease and passed away a short time later. Obergefell successfully fought to be listed as spouse on Arthur’s death certificate, though Ohio appealed that decision and the Sixth Circuit overturned it.
Though Ohio is fighting plaintiffs all the way to the highest court in the country, Cincinnati has staunchly supported them.
It’s another sign of the city’s continued evolution. Twenty-two years ago, Cincinnati passed Article XII, one of the most restrictive anti-gay ordinances in the country. The charter amendment passed by City Council expressly forbade passage of laws protecting individuals from discrimination due to their LGBTQkknd statuses.
As Ohio was passing its anti-gay marriage amendment in 2004, Cincinnati was dismantling its anti-gay laws, revoking Article XII. Since then, the city has become increasingly LGBTQkknd friendly. In 2011, Cincinnati elected its first openly gay elected official, City Councilman Chris Seelbach. Council has also recognized gay rights activists and declared April 28 John Arthur Day in honor of Obergefell’s late spouse.
“We’re with you,” Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann said to Obergefell after council passed the motion recognizing Arthur. “We look forward to taking steps to reverse some mistakes Ohio has made in the past.”
Obergefell still lives in the city he shared with Arthur since the 1980s. He says he feels nothing but support from Cincinnati.
“I really do feel like the city is behind us,” he says. “I just feel a lot of love.” ©