Ohio Reacts To DOMA Strike Down

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Stonewall Columbus executive director Karla Rotham (right) hugs Rick Neil, an organization member, after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling to strike down the federal law that prevented same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits like their heterosexual counterparts.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)
Stonewall Columbus executive director Karla Rotham (right) hugs Rick Neil, an organization member, after the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling to strike down the federal law that prevented same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits like their heterosexual counterparts.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)

With the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down DOMA, the defense of marriage act, Columbus’ large gay population waits to see what this means for them. WOSU talks with some experts who analyze how Ohio could be affected.

Since the mid -90s, federal law prohibited married gay couples from getting the same federal benefits – taxes, health, pension benefits – as their heterosexual counterparts.

So in the moments before the decision was announced, , anxiety, anticipation and excitement were palpable in a back office of Stonewall Columbus, the city’s LGBT community center. Its executive director Karla Rothan and member Rick Neil, whose hands were trembling, heard the news they wanted to hear.

The two erupted into cheers, their arms flying up above their heads in a sign of victory, as they learned the law was found unconstitutional.
Rothan and Neil took phone calls from their partners. Rothan put her partner of 17 years, Linda Schuler, on speaker phone.

“Are you happy?” Rothan asked.

“Oh my God, I’m kind of shocked,” Schuler answered.

And then Rothan asked Schuler to marry her. There was a soft, yet audible “yes.”

The couple exchanged “I love yous.”

But Rothan and her partner’s marriage still will not be recognized in Ohio. The justice’s decision does not overturn Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban.

But it could make the road to striking down Ohio’s ban later a little less bumpy.

The Supreme ruled DOMA was unconstitutional because it did not treat homosexual couples the same as heterosexual couples.

Ohio State University Mortiz College of Law professor Marc Spindelman said gay marriage supporters in Ohio could use that to argue their case to overturn the state version of DOMA.

“It seems as though the language of equal protection can be used by proponents of same-sex marriage to urge courts to strike state bans on same-sex marriage, state DOMAs, on similar grounds,” Spindelman said.

That’s what Stonewall’s Rothan hopes will happen as Ohio gay marriage supporters look to put an initiative on the ballot in 2014 or 2016 to rescind the state ban.

“It’ll just make it easier for us to overturn that decision,” Rothan said. “Because basically the federal government has basically made that law at the federal level unconstitutional and it might make it easier for us here in Ohio.”

But the Supreme Court still leaves it up to the states. Ohio’s ban, approved by voters in 2004, remains in place.

Charles Tassell, with Citizens for Community Values which opposes gay marriage, said, “It’s perfectly fine. In fact, section two of DOMA was not addressed and it’s actually strengthened it because it reinforced the fact that states have the ability to continue this debate.”

And for that reason, Tassell sees the high court’s decision as win for Ohio.

“The decision rests with the people in each state. And if they want to adopt something like that, they can, if they want to stay with the standard, traditional definition of marriage, and the ramifications it has on public policy, they can do that.”

Ohio politicians have weighed in. Democrats Michael Coleman and Senator Sherrod Brown welcomed the ruling. Republican Senator Rob Portman, who co-sponsored DOMA and now supports gay marriage, said states should decide the issue.

The decision still leaves a lot of questions. A big one is what federal benefits Ohio gay couples are eligible for. It’s not as simple as it would seem.

Equality Ohio executive director Elyzabeth Holford said some federal agencies look to where a person was married to determine eligibility while others look to a person’s current residency.

“So I guess that’s where I get to that answer, ‘Well, I’m not sure.’ But in my heart of hearts, it seems to make sense that if you are legally married and have a document and a recognized marriage in a jurisdiction then it would make very much sense, if the Supreme Court has said ‘hey, married couples all need to be treated equally in terms of these benefits,’…for those couples to be treated equally,” Holford said.

The pentagon said it’s beginning to extend its benefits to same-sex spouses of military members.

Back at Stonewall Columbus on High Street in the Short North, Karla and Rick Neil continue to read through the Supreme Court decision. They know the city’s gay community will have a lot of questions.

Neil is optimistic change is coming to Ohio, cautiously optimistic. But that is put aside for now. They’re preparing to celebrate.

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