LIMA — For some, same-sex marriage is a civil rights matter.
For others, it's a constitutional debate.
For many, it's a spiritual matter, with religious denominations offering varying views on biblical interpretations.
It's an issue pushed into the collective consciousness. Support is higher for same-sex marriage now than it was a decade ago, with 45 percent to 55 percent in favor of allowing gay marriages, depending on the poll.
“Don't say gay marriage,” Michael Premo, the campaign manager for Why Marriage Matters Ohio, said while in Lima earlier this month. “Don't say same-sex marriage. It makes it sound like we are creating something new. We are just trying to redefine marriage. We are just trying to open it up for more people.”
The marriage of a man and a man or a woman and a woman is not legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia, representing 38 percent of the U.S. population. In three states — Maine, Maryland and Washington — voters approved the practice in a popular vote in November 2012.
The issue will reach Ohioans sometime in the next few years. An information campaign by advocacy group Equality Ohio officially kicked off a statewide tour in Lima on Feb. 11. A statewide ballot measure could come as early as this year, but it's more likely to appear on Ohio ballots in 2016.
A legal matter
Marriage equality began in some state as legislative actions or by litigation.
The U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted by other states. One section of it essentially banned same-sex marriages from having a legal standing in the federal government, but the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional in 2013 in its U.S. v. Windsor decision.
Ohio voters in 2004 approved a state constitution amendment, making it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. Nearly 62 percent of Ohio voters approved the change.
The U.S. Constitution has relatively little to say about defining marriages and whether it's a right or a privilege.
“It isn't as cut and dried as people think it is,” said Joanne Brant, a law professor at Ohio Northern University. “However, historically, it has always been a matter that was left for the states to decide. It has always been left to state law.”
People on both sides of the same-sex battle claimed the Supreme Court decision as a major victory. Brant says it was nothing of the sort.
“It reinforced the traditional role that states play,” Brant said.
Brant said the U.S. Supreme Court didn't rule on same-sex marriage, but rather ruled that it was wrong for the federal government to not view a same-sex marriage that was legal in that state. She explained that after challenges were made to Proposition 8 in California by a lower U.S. District Court, the California attorney general chose not to appeal, therefore opening the door for gay marriages to resume.
“No one appealed,” Brant said, “so the Supreme Court could not rule on it.”
Brant said the right to define marriage is still up to each state.
“The bottom line is that the states are still the primary sources,” Brant said.
While couples receive a certificate to lawfully record marriages, most marriages also contain a spiritual ceremony to seal their union in the sight of God.
The Rev. Mark Foor of Flat Branch Church of Christ in Kenton said many Christians are losing footing on the issue because of their hypocritical selves. He said while he has no doubt the Bible defines homosexuality as a sin, Christians needed to be a better beacon themselves.
“We need to encounter God and his reality,” Foor said. “We become a slave to a lifestyle. Because of sin, we have fallen from our relationship with God. We become a slave to sin. Because of being removed from God, we are born with that hole that we need to fill. In effect, everyone is looking for God.”
The Rev. Steve Clayton of Celina Baptist Temple takes issue with claims made for same-sex marriage, including swaying people through polls or saying it is natural. He said as same-sex marriage advances, we will see the ramifications.
“You cannot legislate morality,” Clayton said. “A lot of it goes back to our colleges and high schools. They teach that there are no absolutes. I think this is one of the reasons we are suffering as a country. If you throw away your moral values on sexuality, it will continue to get worse and worse.”
Foor added the very fact of discussion whether gay marriage should be legal is evidence that Christians turned over its definition to the state.
“We have deified the state,” Foor said. “Marriage is already defined in the Bible. When you turn it over to the state, you are asking for problems.”
Clayton said morality is on a decline in America. He said it is a slippery slope, with topics such as abortion and now homosexuality leading the way to even worse perversions along the way.
“If we weaken the definition of marriage we open the door for things such as polygamy,” Clayton said. “It was the same thing that led to the fall of Rome. Nero married a 13 year-old boy and eventually was playing a fiddle while Rome burned.”
Clayton said people are looking in the wrong places for love and acceptance when it comes to homosexuality. He said Christians have been afraid to stand up and speak against the acceptance of gay marriage because of the culture.
Not all clergy share the same outlook or interpretation of Scripture.
The Rev. Dave Harris, of Trinity United Methodist Church in Lima, said the official standpoint of the United Methodist Church is same-sex marriages cannot be performed.
“The UMC has a general conference every four years,” Harris said. “The last one was in 2012, so a lot can change in a few years.”
Still, homosexuals are welcome in the church. Harris said gays members have felt more accepted at his church. Harris said at Trinity, diversity is celebrated, which includes homosexuals.
“We do not consider things such as race, political divisions or socioeconomic status as barriers,” he said.
The Rev. Bryan Bucher of Community United Methodist Church in Shawnee Township said many people's minds are already made up when they read Scripture, so it is a matter of interpreting it to their own beliefs.
“You have to hold Jesus over all others,” Bucher said. “Jesus never mentioned homosexuality.”
Harris and Bucher fell just short of approving of gay marriage but didn't deny it was the right course of action either.
What could be next
The UMC now allows homosexual members and officeholders, while it still bans them from ordainment or marriage. Harris said there is still ongoing dialogue within the church. He said the final outcome is inevitable.
“For years and years, denominations wouldn't ordain blacks or women,” Harris said. “I think as a nation we will move toward full rights for all.”
That transformation is something that will shake many churches to the core.
“I believe this is an issue that will split the UMC wide open,” Bucher said. “There is no room in the UMC for any compromises. I am nervous to even talk about it.”
Harris said if the possibility was open to him from a UMC standpoint, he would not use discrimination based on sexual orientation and would base his choice to marry a couple on the facts of a healthy, faith-based relationship.
Bucher said the fact that many homosexuals felt they had no place in Christ's church was a fact that pained him and gave him some “inner-turmoil.”
Now an Ohio case could help define marriages and family in Ohio. A pair of men married in New York in 2012 but living in Ohio with their 7-year-old daughter filed a federal lawsuit against Ohio over its constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
A statewide vote could still come into play, Elizabeth Holford, the Equality Ohio Executive Director, said during the town hall meeting earlier this month.
“I love Ohio, and I am sad of what is going on in Ohio,” she said. “Some of us are not as protected as others.”