Supreme Court Ruling Striking Down DOMA Leaves Unanswered Questions In Ohio

Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf outside Cleveland City Hall. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf outside Cleveland City Hall. (Nick Castele / ideastream)
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In the afternoon at Cleveland City Hall, a small crowd of LGBT advocates hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a step forward for the gay rights movement in Ohio. A bit later, Leslye Huff arrived with her spouse, Mary Ostendorf. Huff says they’ve been together almost 31 years.

HUFF: “We were just married a couple of years ago, in Washington, D.C. We decided to go to our nation’s capital to make the point that we are citizens of this country.”

But the state of Ohio doesn’t recognize that marriage. That's because of a 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act says same-sex spouses can receive federal benefits as a couple.

Maria Shinn, an attorney who works with LGBT couples in Ohio, says it’s not clear whether that applies to spouses living in states that don’t recognize gay marriage.

SHINN: “That would be the ideal situation, that if a couple gets married in Massachusetts and then comes back to Ohio, that they still will now enjoy the federal benefits of that marriage, even though Ohio will not recognize their marriage.”

Law professor Jonathan Entin at Case Western Reserve University says that question really hasn’t been answered yet.

ENTIN: “I think it’s pretty clear that today’s ruling doesn’t really mean anything for Ohio.”

In other words, the ruling does nothing to negate Ohio’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, and it leaves the issue of same-sex spousal benefits ambiguous.

ENTIN: “The ball is now in the federal government’s court to decide how it’s going to respond.”

Entin says that opens the possibility for more court cases involving Ohio and other states that prohibit gay marriage.

Gay rights groups say they’re serious about putting a referendum on the ballot in the next several years to repeal Ohio’s ban. A Quinnipiac poll from earlier this year found that Ohioans support same-sex marriage 48 percent to 44 percent.

Charles Tassell, an opponent of gay marriage, sees the court’s ruling as letting stand a decision Ohio voters made in 2004. Tassell is a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, which fought for Ohio’s gay marriage ban.

TASSELL: “It’s not a Roe v. Wade-style decision where they came forward and said this is a -- same-sex marriage is for the whole United States. They did not do that. In fact, it was very evident that they kicked it back and said, 'No this is for the states to do.'”

Leslye Huff says even though this ruling doesn’t change Ohio law, it might invigorate advocates for same-sex marriage, and for other laws, like those prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual identity and orientation.

HUFF: “We figure, if it’s not happening in the Midwest, in Ohio, then the whole country can’t benefit. Because this is where the hard soil needs to be cracked open and watered and fertilized so that it can spread in equal portions everywhere in the country.”

For Huff, it’s not the end of her push for new laws in Ohio, but it’s one more step in a long walk.

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