SEVERAL SATURDAYS AGO, my husband, Tom Grote, and I looked at each other after breakfast, as our two little girls were tearing apart the playroom and the previous night’s dishes beckoned from the sink, and said, “We’ve got to do something.”
The day before, Federal District Court Judge Timothy Black concluded a hearing in Cincinnati by proclaiming that he was inclined to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, four same-sex couples who wanted the state of Ohio to recognize their out-of-state marriages by listing both spouses on the birth certificates of their children. To make it simple, his ruling would strike down altogether Ohio’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages from outside the state.
Judge Black also announced he would issue his ruling on April 14, giving us just a few days to get organized. We knew the ruling would get hung up on appeal, although we thought there might be a brief window after its release to press for recognition. We knew there were same-sex couples in Ohio who wanted the benefits and protections of marriage but might be wary of the cost and complications involved with getting married elsewhere. And we suspected that taking a group of people to another state to get married might generate some media interest and give us a chance to highlight the indignity of our state’s discriminatory marriage amendment.
By the end of the day, we had met two couples – Leah Kaiser and Jenn Lape, and Cara Blessing and Chelsea Bolyard – willing to join the group. By Sunday, we were calling the group the Ohio Marriage Caravan and had decided to take it to Chicago the following Friday – just five days away. Lynne Bowman at the Human Rights Campaign connected us with Lambda Legal, who promised they could get us a waiver of the one-day waiting period for marriage in Illinois. Lauren Kinsey, our social media guru, got Tom and me set up on Twitter (successfully) and Instagram (less so).
Friday arrived. The caravan set off from different points, all joining up on a glorious spring day in Chicago. The ladies emerged glowing from the hotel and we walked over to the county clerk’s office – every step documented by the wonderful Amy Clark, who runs a photography studio in Columbus and graciously offered her services pro bono after reading about the caravan. The clerk’s terrific staff quickly issued the marriage licenses – and a lesbian couple in town from Indiana for the same reason got swept up in the caravan as we were whisked over to the chambers of Judge Martin Moltz. As promised, the judge waived the waiting period, and an air of quiet excitement settled over the room.
Each couple in turn was married, committing themselves to each other through thick and thin, for better and for worse. We celebrated afterwards, accepting congratulations from passers-by as we left the courthouse and toasting each other that evening.
We returned to Ohio the next morning, bringing marriage back home just in time for Judge Black’s ruling. The judge completely repudiated the state’s ban on recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages, declaring that the anti-equality argument “is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the state’s ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” In a disappointing but not surprising move, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, backed by Governor John Kasich, appealed the ruling, forcing Judge Black to put his decision on hold while that process moves toward its ultimate destination at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Four beautiful couples got married in Chicago and can immediately take advantage of the benefits and protections provided to married couples by the federal government. As long as our elected officials block recognition at home, however, we are stymied, lacking a legal relationship with our own children, excluded from family health insurance coverage and confirmed in our status as second-class citizens. Despite this, we are winning. We will stand up, we will get married, we will demand our equality – until our exclusion is no longer tolerated and those who support it are left behind.
Rick Neal is married to long-time LGBTQ activist and businessman Tom Grote and is a stay-at-home dad to their two daughters, Amoret and Sophia. He has degrees in public health and international relations, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco, and ran relief programs for refugees in Asia and Africa before moving to Columbus in 2007. Rick and Tom are committed to the fight for marriage equality in Ohio and plan to organize more marriage caravans throughout the appeals process.