If you’re part of the evergrowing LGBTQ community or simply want to learn more about it, you have probably asked yourself “is gay marriage legal in Ohio?”. Although the simple answer to this question would be yes, it is legal, the journey to reach it was anything but simple.
According to an NGO fighting for the rights of the sexual minorities, out of a total adult population of approximately 11.6 million people, 4.3% of these individuals identified themselves as being part of the LGBTQ community, which roughly counts for 389,000 people.
These numbers represent estimates as they don’t take into account teenagers, children, and those who still find it difficult to “come out”. Either way, getting around this vibrant community has its challenges on both sides, so here is everything you need to know about gay marriage, rights, and duties in the state of Ohio.
Similar to all other US states, same-sex marriages have faced trouble times in the past. In December 2003, the Ohio House of Representatives passed the Defense of Marriage Act bill, which was later turned into a law, in February 2004.
The law banned same-sex marriages, along with the statutory benefits of legal marriage to nonmarital relationships.
Apart from banning gay marriages, the Defense of Marriage Act also prohibited the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages, which meant same-sex residents of Ohio who got married in another state were not benefiting from their union recognition in Ohio, and neither from their rights.
However, between 2004 and 2013, the United States started the conversation on the purpose of marriage and asked for nationwide talks about the legality and morality of same-sex marriages. Similar to many other states, Ohio was not first on board with the changes, stating, time and again, that the only recognized union by the law is between a man and a woman.
As advocates around the country started rising, supporting the rights of gay people and their right to getting married, so did several NGOs from Ohio. In 2013, Equality Ohio and FreedomOhio sought state officials’ approval of an initiative that would replace the constitutional amendment, allowing same-sex marriage in the state.
Tables turned soon after a Cincinnati same-sex couple filed a lawsuit, claiming that the state of Ohio has discriminated against gay couples who were lawfully married out-of-state. The famous case Obergefell v. Hodges paved the way to inclusion and acceptance, as a district judge granted the couple’s motion. A couple of days before Christmas, on December 23, 2013, a judge ruled that Ohio’s refusal to recognize gay marriages legally performed outside the state was discriminatory, ordering the Court of Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
However, it wasn’t until four months later, in April 2014, that the state of Ohio had to legally recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
Struggles continued for the next year, until finally, at the beginning of 2015, the United States Supreme Court consolidated the famous Obergefell v. Hodges with three similar other cases filed in Tennessee, Michigan, and Kentucky, agreeing to reopen and reexamine the case.
Previously, Ohio was one of 14 remaining states to ban same-sex marriages but, with the release of the Court’s ruling in June 2015, courthouses in Cleveland and across the state finally opened their doors for same-sex couples who wanted to get married.
Shifting in opinions
As with all other federal states, various public and private institutions and companies in Ohio conducted several polls, asking for people’s opinions regarding same-sex marriage.
Although the citizens from Ohio seemed more open-minded in the earliest stages of the 2010s, a 2012 poll conducted by The Washington Post indicated that 37% of people still thought that gay marriage should be illegal.
A slight increase in the negative responses was observed in a poll from August 2013, where 42% of the people questioned stated that same-sex marriages should remain illegal. Soon after, in a poll from February 2014, almost 50% of Ohio citizens voted for same-sex marriages being legal, while 44% of them said they should remain against the law.
Perhaps the most recent poll on the matter, conducted in 2017, reflected a more liberal opinion. The Public Religion Research Institute found out that over 60% of the residents of Ohio were now supporting gay marriages, as opposed to only 33% denying them.
Rules and regulations
Despite Ohio adhering to the decision of the Supreme Court for accepting same-sex marriages performed both within the borders of the state and in other jurisdictions, there are still some clarifications that need to be made.
The Supreme Court has ruled that all states must provide equal treatment to gay couples, but this mainly applies to legal unions, aka marriages. For instance, Ohio doesn’t recognize same-sex civil unions from other states but, again, as long as the partnership ends with marriage, everything is legal in this state.
Apart from the right to getting married and divorced within the state, other rights were finally recognized for same-sex couples, considered as much of a victory as the union itself. Currently, married same-sex couples can file joint state tax returns and federal state returns.
Gay partners who wed also receive the benefit of state gift tax exemptions that were previously entitled only for heterosexual couples. Similarly, hospitals must grant visitation privileges to same-sex spouses, while employees who have fully-insured medical plans can enjoy the benefits both for themselves, as well as for their children and same-sex spouses.
Even though same-sex couples benefit from the same rights as all other couples, individuals who are part of the LGBTQ community might still face social challenges regularly, often including discrimination.
As opposed to other states where sex crimes are punished by the law, there is no statewide protection in Ohio for gender identity and sexual orientation apart from state employment.
An executive order issued in December 2018 by Governor John Kasich included gender identity or expression as being prohibited within state employment, together with discrimination based on sexual orientation. Although these rules are meant to limit discrimination and provide free access to the labor market for all citizens in Ohio, this is not always the case.
Many of the state’s cities and counties have anti-discrimination ordinances prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including Toledo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Athens, Yellow Springs, and others.
It is important to note that the city of Springfield does ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation but gender identity is not mentioned, which may leave some of the LGBTQ members exposed to potential discrimination.
Similarly, some cities and counties provide protection for city/county employees only, which means individuals hired by private companies may not benefit from the same rights.
Moreover, the Ohio state crime law addresses violence based on color, race, nation, and religion but doesn’t tag sexual orientation or gender identity equally. Nonetheless, efforts are made for these new amendments to be integrated within the laws soon.
Freedom of expression and controversy
Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community may still face some hostility, especially from people with more conservative views. Although there are certain bars and places that welcome members of the community together with any other people, some individuals still don’t feel 100% safe to express their feelings, emotions, and their true identity, even to their families.
Part of the problem could be that Ohio laws don’t strictly ban the use of conversion therapy on LGBT minors in the state.
Although there was a bill introduced in February 2015, it didn’t receive enough legislative support, and didn’t officially pass. This means that conversion therapy may still be used on minors even though many U.S. jurisdictions have banned it and considered it cruel and inhumane.
However, this type of therapy is forbidden in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Athens, Lakewood, Kent, and Toledo through ordinances that went into effect between January 2016 and July 2019.
Finally, there are a series of annual events that come in the support of the ever-growing community, providing a reason to celebrate love and diversity for all members of the community and their families. The Pride parades are held every year in Ohio’s biggest cities, including Columbus and Cincinnati, and they report an increased number of participants every year.
Unfortunately, as with the current Coronavirus outbreak, some of the parades and public events were postponed or canceled, and this includes the Cincinnati Pride that was scheduled to take place on June 27th. Similarly, the Stonewall Columbus Pride event was postponed for October 3rd, 2020.
Some of these events are still looking for sponsors and volunteers, which makes the perfect opportunity for people to connect and become more open toward the members of this vibrant community. If you would like to take part in any of Ohio’s Pride events, all you have to do is go online and see how you can help.