Both sides of same-sex marriage issue voice their passions outside federal court

Streetside on gay marriage: Prayers and parades

CINCINNATI – While lawyers argued six separate same-sex marriage cases from four states inside the federal courthouse downtown, outside, people demonstrated their passion for opposing sides of the issue.

People calmly sitting, hands folded into each other, in prayer to support traditional marriage lined the sidewalk just outside the courthouse, amidst enthusiastic shouting in the streets supporting same-sex marriage.

The cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan heard Wednesday will likely influence the nation's debate over gay marriage and could shape how the issue is framed as it inevitably makes its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shannon and Ginger Collins, both 37, of Independence, Ky., were married in 2010 in Massachusetts. They waited at the bottom of the courthouse steps until it was time to march to Fountain Square, where a rally was being held.

Shannon said she spent 21 years hiding who she was, and to be outside of the courthouse on this day was  monumental. They came out to support the couples in the appeals court and to voice their opinions about their home Commonwealth of Kentucky, urging it to legally recognize their family.

“I’ve fought my entire life to be seen like everyone else. I want everyone to see who we are, I’m proud of my family,” said Shannon, who is stepmom to Ginger’s three children from her previous marriage.

“I want everyone to see who we are;, I’m proud of my family,” she said.

"I was afraid of what people would think, scared,” said Ginger, who didn’t come out for more than 30 years. “It’s freeing. I feel like I’m a better person.”

“I want our family recognized. I want my kids growing up to know it’s OK.”

READ MORE: Same-sex marriage fight shifts to Cincinnati

Siree Sweeten, 34, of Dayton, Ohio, carried a sign supporting the right for same-sex couples to not only marry but also have a family.

Sweeten works at Springcreek Fertility Clinic in Dayton and said, “We think it just shouldn’t be a man and woman who can have a family. Same-sex couples make just as good of moms and dads as anyone.”

Eight-year-old Maycee Sherman attended the rally in Fountain Square, a block from the courthouse, with her two aunts, Nicole and Amy Metz, who held a commitment ceremony in Cincinnati in 2012.

To her, her aunts being married is the norm, and equal rights isn’t a privilege.

“It wouldn’t be fair if some people have more rights than other people,” she said.

Amanda Stegall, 30, brought her daughter, one-year-old Kaliah to the rally downtown. Her wife, Stephanie, whom she married in Connecticut in 2009, was not in attendance. The Elsmere, Ky., mom said it’s important to her that Kaliah’s birth certificate name both she and Stephanie.

“If something happens to me, she has no rights,” Amanda said. “We planned, we saved to make our family and she deserves to be recognized. And our daughter deserves to be validated to say ‘This is my family.’”

Mary Clark, 61, stands outside the courthouse in the blistering sun, her head down, eyes closed. She is silently praying.

“I think the loud approach may get attention, but [they] don’t hear what you’re saying,” Clark said.

She is praying for traditional marriage.

“I’m here to show my solidarity with those who believe traditional marriage is the only marriage,” Clark, of Deer Park, said. 

“If we water down the definition of marriage, it’s hurting children. They deserve to have a mother and father. It’s the basics of our society around the world for thousands of years.”

She questions: Where do you draw the line with redefining marriage?

“Why not fathers and daughters? Brothers and sisters? Where do you draw the line?”

Westwood resident, Helen Russo, 75, holds a rosary close to her body. It dangles as she bows her head, praying in a circle with other like-minded members of the Citizens for Community Values.

“I consider myself a pretty rational person. If you have a belief, you need an equal voice,” she said about coming out to the courthouse. “We’re being out-shouted. The only thing we can do is pray at this point.”

“I think it’s going to be a pivotal decision,” she said.

If the bans are overturned, she said, marriage will become blurred.

“We’re not homophobic, but… you can call it whatever you want,” she continued. “But marriage is the union between man and woman.”

“Don’t reinvent the Bible. Don’t call it marriage,” Russo said. “God created us. We all have free will. You can have your relationships.”

Marriage, she said, is made up of a man and a woman and is for the purpose of procreating.

Nick Federinko, 27, said it’s about making history and God recognizes all relationships.

“Where there is God, there is love,” Federinko, who is a member of Christians for Equality said. “It’s about being on the right side of history, standing up for friends who’ve faced exclusion. We have to stand for love.”

Joanie Loebker and her husband Ray, 71 and 73 respectively, have been married for 50 years. The Delhi couple came out to encourage and pray for traditional marriage.

‘It reflects God’s plan for creation,” Ray said.

“We’re fighting to preserve marriage – they can be as perverted as they want to be. But it’ll never be marriage,” he continued. “You can call it a union, just don’t call it a marriage.”

Shayla Shannon, 29, and Ashley Billey, 28, of Cleveland, said that they wanted to support other couples like themselves, especially since they would like to start a family.

“I would rather leave the state I love to have the family I want,” Shannon said.

“There are tons of happy children with same-gendered couples—those kids are blessed to understand love in a way that most people will never understand,” she said.

Married in April in Chicago, Shannon and Billey said the turnout for the court cases today is impressive.

“It shows strength in numbers, we all working for same goal,” Billey said. “Show this state, ‘Ohio is ready.’” Because right now, she said, Ohio is telling people it’s “OK to hate.”

Snapshot of 6th Circuit Court of Appeals cases-

Kentucky: Bourke v. Beshear / Kentucky: Love v. Beshear
On Feb. 12, 2014, a federal judge ruled that Kentucky acknowledge same-sex marriages performed in other states. While the Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway supported the ruling, Gov. Steve Beshear appealed.

Michigan: DeBoer v. Snyder
On March 21, 2014, a federal judge ruled in favor of the freedom to marry in the DeBoer v. Snyder case, striking down a ban on same-sex marriage. Following that decision, more than 300 same-sex couples across the state received marriage licenses until the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay in the decision. The state is appealing the ruling.

Ohio: Obergefell v. Wymyslo
On Dec. 23, 2013, judge Tim Black ruled in Obergefell v. Wymyslo that the State of Ohio must respect the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other states for the purpose of listing surviving spouses on death certificates.

Ohio: Henry v. Himes
In April 2014, Black ruled that Ohio must respect all married same-sex couples who wed in other states for all state purposes, including listing parents on children's birth certificates.

Tennessee: Tanco v. Haslam
On March 14, a federal judge ordered state officials to respect the marriages of three same-sex couples whose lawsuit, Tanco v. Haslam, challenges the state’s marriage ban. The couples are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Allen Tackett and Craig Dale of Cincinnati were married in Vancouver, Canada in 2005.

Susie and Joe Bruch look on as same-sex marriage supporters parade in the street just outside the courthouse Wednesday afternoon.

On Aug. 26, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear cases from Indiana and Wisconsin. The 9th Circuit Court will hear cases from Nevada and Idaho on Sept. 8.

For more stories and photos by Jessica Noll, visit or follow her on Twitter @JessicaWCPO.

Must See Video