Worlds Collide In Ohio’s Same-Sex Marriage Debate
At the edge of Gahanna, a rainbow-striped flag shimmers in the wind.
The flag marks the home of two men united in love, marriage and discrimination sanctioned by the Ohio Constitution, 10TV’s Paul Aker reported.
Because Ohio forbids same sex unions, David and Mark Cunningham went to a state where same sex marriage is legally recognized.
"We are legally married in Connecticut," said David Cunningham.
Their love story started nearly 20 years ago. "Playing softball," the couple said in unison. "We were on the same softball team."
For Mark, the attraction was instant.
"I saw David way down below and thought, ‘I really like that guy,’" said Mark, 51. "I think we both thought within ourselves, this is a long term commitment, and we didn't want anyone else."
In 1993, Mark and David publicly committed themselves during a marriage celebration in German Village.
"It was an exciting day," Mark said. "A friend of ours was training to be a minister, so he did it for us."
Though the ceremony was legally meaningless in Ohio, the couple said it was important to them.
"I think going through it, you feel like you're a family now," said David, 45.
Mark said that he and David knew that they were a family, but the ceremony was about bonding.
“It was just amazing," Mark said.
Not everyone was so excited. Mark's father did not approve. "He is not real accepting of the gay community," Mark said as he choked back emotion.
"He doesn't really see us anymore," David said. "He doesn't want anything to do with our family. He's only met Clayton once or twice in 10 years," David said.
Clayton is the second child Mark and David adopted. Before him, the couple adopted Mitchell, now 14.
The adoption posed serious risks for Mark. At the time, he was a navigator in the air force.
"So during Don't Ask, Don't tell, we couldn't be public," Mark said. "(It was) very stressful."
But the military never caught up to them. Mark retired as a lieutenant colonel. The young family grew -- thrived.
Pictures of the family show both boys enjoy vacations and school sports. David's mother stops by every day to help Clayton with his homework, Aker reported.
The Cunninghams said that the people who know the boys know that they have a good home.
"They see that our kids are pretty good kids," David said. "That we can do a good job."
David said that demonstrates something, "so our feeling is: we want the same rights that everyone else has."
Without marriage rights in Ohio, there is no presumption of inheritance. It also complicates other issues such as social security benefits, pension rights and tax liabilities.
"From the legal standpoint right now, he gets a pension. If something happens to him I don't get that pension if he passes away," David said. "So that's not right if we're married."
Ohio voters took away any chance for same sex marital rights in 2004 with a constitutional amendment called the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
At least 35 other states have similar laws. North Carolina just reaffirmed its opposition.
But in six states and the District of Columbia, the government grants full marital rights to same-sex couples. Just days after North Carolina's vote, President Barack Obama became the first president to publicly support same sex marriage.
In May, the President announced, "I've just concluded, that for me personally, it is important for me to affirm that I think same sex-couples should be able to get married.”
The remark fired up forces in Ohio bent on repealing DOMA.
Marguerite Girardot fights for equality with a pen. The newlywed said that she is signing up people to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act to preserve her family. She married her wife at a March rally in Cleveland.
"I just want to have the same rights as anyone else," Girardot said. "I've got a little boy and loving wife and I just want to be able to have my family and not worry about the government taking it from me. "
"It's my civil rights and they took them from me," Girardot said. "To me it's the same as segregation."
But to some people those are fighting words.
"It's a struggle at the least. You could call it a civil rights war," said National Organization for Marriage worker Jonathan Baker.
Baker works from his Worthington basement to make sure gays and lesbians do not get marital rights, Aker reported.
"I think the President's announcement has awakened a sleeping matter," said Baker. "(That) will bring it to the forefront."
Baker, who has been married for seven years, said that neither he nor America is ready to change the picture of the family.
"We believe the definition of marriage is important because it brings together two halves of humanity. It brings together a man and a woman, a mother and a father, that they are best suited to raise a child, " Baker said. "We understand it doesn't always work out that way, but that is the best model.”
Capital University Law Professor Mark Strasser has written numerous articles on the topic of gay marriage.
Strasser said that he believes that because the states are so splintered on a topic that involves fundamental rights, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide the issue.
"The Constitution is there to protect fundamental rights," Strasser said. "Even when they're not popular."
Strasser said that DOMA tramples on family values the Supreme Court has said, in other contexts, the Constitution protects, Aker reported.
"Do I think the Defense of Marriage Act violates constitutional rights? I do," said Strasser.
Strasser said the high court could come to the same finding.
He points to other cases where the Court stood up for civil rights. In the 60s, the Warren Court struck down segregation in schools. But Strasser said that the case is closer to another landmark case. That was the 1967 case, Loving v. Virginia.
The case reached the Supreme Court after the state of Virginia prosecuted the African American woman and her white husband for violating the state's miscegeny laws. A sheriff's deputy rousted the couple out of their bed at 2 a.m. one morning.
In an ABC news interview from 1967, Mildred Loving talked about the discriminatory laws.
"I think marrying who you want to is a right no man should have anything to do with," she said.
As it defended the law, a lawyer for the state of Virginia argued the law was meant to protect children, according historic Supreme Court audio recordings.
"It is not infrequent that children of inter-married parents are referred to not merely as the children of inter-married parents, but the victims," the attorney said.
After hearing the arguments, the Warren Court struck down the ban on interracial marriage. More recently, the Supreme Court invalidated a Texas homosexuality law after police barged into the home of a gay couple to enforce it.
"I think both speak. Lawrence v. Texas is important, and Loving v. Virginia is important," Strasser said.
However, the Court of today is much more conservative than that of the Warren era. And when the Court handed down its Lawrence v. Texas decision, Justices Scalia and Thomas bitterly opposed it.
The justices have ammunition to oppose same marriage based on what is written I the Constitution – and what is not.
"Marriage is not mentioned in the Constitution, that's right. Not just marriage between same sex individuals--marriage is not in the Constitution," Strasser said. "And if we go back to Loving, one of the arguments made was God didn't intend, the district court said, for the races to intermingle."
Strasser said that the greatest hope for same-sex couples is how the Court views the family.
"I admittedly believe that states are restricting marriage are in fact harming the interests of their own citizens," Strasser said.
Strasser said that it is in the public’s interest to allow gay marriage.
"Both those who are different sex that are married and those who are the same sex individuals because we all benefit when we have families that are raising kids, that are taking care of their parents, all kinds of interests," Strasser said. "Those interests really are the same regardless of which kinds of families we are talking about."
Across town, an African American Bishop said that the Supreme Court should yield to God's law.
First Church of God preacher Timothy Clarke said, "Marriage is God's idea.
Clarke opposes same sex marriage and said that same-sex marriage is a different issue than interracial marriage.
“People have to understand the systemic nature of racial injustice -- or racism -- that was not only systemic in that it was in every facet of our culture, but was adjudicated by law, supported by all the powers that be in this nation."
Clarke acknowledged racists who have historically quoted the Bible to justify their positions, Aker reported.
"I would cede that point,” Clarke said.
Clarke said that those people had distorted the meaning of the Bible.
"You know in the history of the world, God and the Bible have gotten a lot of bad press, " Clarke said. "The inquisitions, the crusades, the Pope blessing Mussolini's guns, Apartheid and the Dutch Reform Church. And, white Christians in America. They are not the true voices.”
The Cunninghams said that is they were called on by same sex marriage activists, they would use their voices to push for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
"Emotionally, I would love to do it right now. I want to get it done," David said. "Let's get on (with it).”
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