Thom Rankin knows that when he asks for a marriage license on Friday, he's likely not going to get it. But Rankin and his partner of 17 years, Ray Zander, have more than marriage as a goal when they join about 100 gay couples who plan to ask Cuyahoga County, Ohio, probate court in Cleveland for marriage licenses, which the state prohibits them from having.
"I hope that it at least brings people to the table to hear our views," said Rankin, a retired mortgage loan business owner from suburban Westlake. "We may not agree, but let's come to an understanding that there are certain rights that need to be given to people."
Court administrator John Polito said Monday that the licenses will not be granted. "We have had prior experiences when couples have come in asking for a license," Polito said. "We advise them that the law does not permit for a marriage license issue to people of the same sex."
Gay marriage is not legal in any state. Ohio governor Bob Taft signed a law in January making Ohio the 39th state to ban recognition of same-sex marriages and the second to deny certain benefits to unmarried employees' partners. The law, which doesn't affect policies of private businesses or local governments, takes effect in May.
The Reverend Jimmie Hicks Jr., of Calvary Church of God in Christ in suburban Cleveland Heights, said he is happy the licenses won't be issued in Cleveland the way 4,037 were given to gay couples recently in San Francisco before a court intervened. The Cleveland Heights councilman has sued to block a domestic-partnership registry his city started last month. Hicks said he's not trying to hurt anyone with his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. "We don't hate the individual, but we look at the homosexual act just like we look at adultery, at pornography--you know, any sin. That's what the Bible said," he said.
Cleveland Heights issues certificates recognizing gay and straight unmarried couples who apply for the registry. Proponents say the certificates, which bear no legal weight, help couples get shared insurance, hospital visitation rights, and other benefits. Those rights are a big part of what motivates Rankin, 50, and Zander, 51. They have wills leaving their possessions to each other if one of them dies. The couple would like the government to recognize their relationship and to offer some of the 1,000-plus federal benefits they say are available to straight married couples, including tax breaks and Social Security death benefits.
Patti Verde, 43, a social worker and part-time pastor at Liberation Church of Christ in suburban Lakewood, also plans to seek a license Friday. "This is an important effort at this time to help people across the country to see, 'You know, it's not just people in San Francisco who would like to have equal rights,"' she said. She has been with her partner, Linda Krasienko, for seven years.
The Lesbian Gay/Community Service Center of Greater Cleveland is organizing Friday's event, which will include a rally outside the court. "There's a lot against us right now, and the more attention we can bring, the
more support we can gain, the more likely we are to create change," said Tim Marshall, the group's spokesman.