Wednesday’s historic U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down part of a 1996 federal law barring recognition of same-sex marriages was seen locally as a step in the right direction championing the rights of gays and lesbians to gain equal footing with heterosexual couples.
But it still leaves a lot of ground to be covered before true equality is reached, according to officials of two groups that provide services to the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender community among others.
“Most of us in the LGBT community have not tried to define marriage as much as we wanted legal unions recognized,” Rick Lanza, director of the Lorain County AIDS Task Force said.
“I and my partner just celebrated 33 years together, and if I need any public assistance through Job and Family Services for my medications, my partner’s income is recognized by the state as that of a household, but we can’t get recognized as such for any other benefits,” Lanza said.
Ohio does not recognize same-sex marriage, but a dozen states and the District of Columbia allow marriage between gay and lesbian couples.
The high court ruling was not clear on whether striking down the federal ban on same-sex marriage meant the justices would also end bans on same-sex marriages at the state level.
Lanza, a longtime AIDS patient, works on a volunteer basis for the AIDS task force.
“Financially we are recognized as a household, but the state won’t accept same-sex couples in any other manner,” Lanza said.
The couple can’t qualify for Medicaid benefits for Lanza because his partner earns too much money, and so they must file tax returns separately.
“Which means we end up paying more taxes since we can’t file jointly,” Lanza said.
“If the definition of marriage as including same-sex couples is good enough for Merriam-Webster (of dictionary fame), then it should be good enough for the states,” Lanza said.
The dictionary’s secondary definition of “marriage” reads: “the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage.”
“It doesn’t make sense if you have a legal union in one state, why not recognize it anywhere,” Lanza said.
For Kate Miller, co-director of Camp Pride Life, a group that has provided clothing and support groups in Lorain County, was gladdened by the ruling.
“While this still won’t let those in Ohio receive benefits, I’m so grateful that those rights are now given to everyone federally,” Miller said.
“I hope other states will follow suit,” Miller said. “There are still laws in place that allow discrimination to take place, and for society to grow, we have to try and stop the prejudices that exist.”
State Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain, reacted to the Supreme Court decision in a statement that said in part “the Supreme Court took a major step forward in the pursuit towards equality … progress towards equality can sometimes be slowed but it cannot be stopped. Here in Ohio and across our country there is much left to do, but today we celebrate a victory for the progress made for those who have been continually discriminated against.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.