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Supreme Court Ruling Comes Amid Shifting Opinions On Gay Marriage

David C. Barnett, WCPN
Dawn Fritz and Mallory Beck celebrated an affirmation ceremony with family and friends in Wellington, this past weekend.

The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage at a time when public opinion on this topic is rapidly changing.  

According to a June 2015 Pew Research report, 57 percent of Americans now favor gay marriage. In 2004, over 60 percent of Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, but now polls indicate a 50/50 split on the topic.  

Twenty-nine-year-old Mallory Beck was both the bride and the music director at her wedding over the weekend.  During the Saturday morning rehearsal, she put the production crew through their paces.  The event was filled with singing, literary readings and children scattering flower petals.   

But, the wedding wasn’t officially sanctioned by the state of Ohio, because Beck married another woman --- Dawn Fritz.  Fritz says it was an “affirmation ceremony”.

"It’s an affirmation of how we feel and it’s a celebration of our love."    

Beck adds: "We could have gone out of state, but that isn’t what we wanted.  We wanted to celebrate our marriage with our friends and our family. Whether or not it’s legal in Ohio doesn’t change that we love each other."

Ohio’s constitutional amendment barring gay marriage could possibly be overturned by the upcoming US Supreme Court decision, expected before the end of the month. 

No matter how the high court rules, the country is experiencing a dramatic change in how same-sex unions are perceived. 

Although Ohio Governor John Kasich maintains that marriage is between one man and one woman, and Attorney-General Mike Dewine is a strong advocate of the state’s current policy, some Ohio attitudes are changing in ways almost unthinkable ten years ago.

Republican Senator Rob Portman shocked conservatives across the state with his 2013 decision to support gay marriage.  Soon after, Portman explained his change of heart to CNN:

"I had a very personal experience: my son came to Jane, my wife, and I and told us that he was gay, and that it was not a choice --- it’s just part of who he is and he’d been that way ever since he could remember --- at the end, changing my position on the issue."

Longtime African American political power broker George Forbes raised eyebrows in 2009 when he convinced a group of black ministers to drop their protest against Cleveland’s domestic partner registry.  Forbes admits he was ambivalent about Gay Rights, but started to change his mind when he was taken to task by his daughters, one night at the dinner table.

"I made a homophobic reference," Forbes recalls,"and my kids were like: 'You shouldn’t say that.  Why you say that?  You shouldn’t say that.'  My kids were saying this to me!  I never said those word again."

Molly Merryman, who heads Kent State’s new Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality thinks young people have been instrumental in changing cultural norms about gay rights.  She adds that, while the gay rights movement had its roots in the social protests of the 1970s, today’s changes are coming from much more mainstream sources. 

She cites the success of last year’s Gay Games in Northeast Ohio.

"One of the things that really happened in Akron and Cleveland was that the business community and the political community came forward and said, 'This is important'.  And, after the Games left, those communities have said, 'This is important' --- it’s not just a transient moment.

74-year-old John Grafton and 68-year-old Richard Worswick didn’t see the point in waiting for the Ohio legal system to change, so they traveled, last fall, with friends and family to New York state --- where same-sex marriages are legal --- and took their wedding vows there.  When Grafton was young, he had to seek out secretive gay bars in order to meet people like himself.  He’s amazed at how times have changed.

"When I talk to the bar owners, they say, 'Our business is terrible.'  And that’s because the younger kids are not going to bars the way we did, they have all these other social activities to do.  And they have the internet, where they meet."

He notes that gay neighborhoods --- or “gayborhoods” --- have also faded in Ohio and across the country, as people are losing their fear of coming out.  His partner Richard Worswick says that’s not such a bad thing.  He sees it as a leveling of the playing field…

"…so that everybody’s the same.  I mean, we’re all different, but why should there be a “gay community” and a “straight community”?  There should just be a community."

And he’s hoping that the coming Supreme Court ruling will be a step in that direction.