CINCINNATI — On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that marriage was a right for same-sex couples, and that same day Bennett Stewart and Jacob Tuma became the first gay couple wed in Hamilton County.
That same day, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley married half a dozen same-sex couples on Fountain Square, and about two dozen same-sex couples were married at the Hamilton County Courthouse.
About a dozen opposite-sex couples also participated in the group wedding at the courthouse, said Hamilton County Probate Court Judge Melissa Powers.
“It was very exciting,” Powers recalled. “The court wanted to make sure they had an opportunity to celebrate.”
Since the initial rush, how many same-sex couples have gotten married in the Tri-State?
No one really seems to know, and it’s very difficult to get an exact count.
The major problem is that on marriage license applications in Kentucky and Ohio, there’s nothing to indicate the gender of the applicants.
Licenses used to list one party as the bride and one as the groom, Warren County Probate Court Administrator Tony Brigano said. But on the day of the ruling, the Warren County and other courts started using forms that simply list “Applicant One” and “Applicant Two.”
The only information available about the marriage is the names of the applicants, the license number and the date issued. This makes determining the sex of the applicants a guessing game based on whether a name is commonly given to girls or boys.
That’s not so hard when the applicants are John and Sue, maybe, but what if a name can be used for both men and women, such as Morgan, or Sydney?
And what about an uncommon name like Yael? Someone by that name obtained a marriage license in Hamilton County last year (it was the name of a Hebrew heroine in the Biblical book of Judges).
Also in Hamilton County last year, an Adalet married a Burul. If you don’t know the Kyrgiz language, or if you don’t have access to the website behindthename.com, you might not know that the name Burul is given to women, and the name Adalet is given to both men and women.
These are the reasons that the Kentucky Bureau of Vital Statistics, the state’s marriage license custodian, couldn’t say how many same-sex licenses had been issued in Northern Kentucky, spokeswoman Beth Fisher said.
The Ohio Department of Health, that state’s marriage license custodian, provided WCPO.com with its best guess on the number of same-sex and opposite sex licenses issued on the day of the ruling. By the department’s reckoning, that day, opposite-sex marriage applications outnumbered same-sex marriage applications 343 to 57 statewide.
The department did not have the time to sort through the more than 90,000 applications made in Ohio since the day of the ruling, spokeswoman Melanie Amato said.
The Mercantile Library is offering an in-depth look at what got Cincinnati's Jim Obergefell to the Supreme Court, with an exclusive panel discussion of the events leading up to and including the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
When: Thursday, June 30, 5:30 p.m. Panel Discussion begins 6:30 p.m.
Who: Jim Obergefell, attorneys Scott Knox and Al Gerhardstein, Federal Judge Martha Daughtery. Moderated by Marianna Bettman.
Where: Renaissance Cincinnati Hotel's Grand Ballroom, 36 E. Fourth St., Cincinnati
To Go: Reservations required. Call 513-621-0717 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost: $25 for Mercantile Library members. $30 for non-members. Proceeds from the evening will benefit the ALS Association.
Hamilton County Probate Court provided a spreadsheet of every marriage license issued in Hamilton County since the ruling. The best guess from that information is that 15 licenses were issued to same-sex couples last June 26. Also, 81 were issued the first month after the ruling, or 15 percent of the total of 531 licenses issued that month.
But from May 21 through June 21 of this year, only 15 licenses, or 3 percent, were issued to same sex-couples out of the total of 507.
With 5,000 marriage licenses issued in Hamilton County since the ruling, it was far too time-consuming to sort through all of them. Although the numbers show there was a bit of a rush for licenses the first month, it didn’t reach the level officials expected, Hamilton County Probate Court Administrator Vince Wallace said.
The court had set up two extra computer terminals to handle the expected surge, he said, but they were never used.
Court officials in other Ohio counties declined to estimate how many same-sex applications they had processed.
“I would hate to guess,” Brigano said. “I’m not sure I would even be close to being accurate.”
In Kentucky, Campbell County Clerk Jim Luersen estimated that his office has handled between 50 and 60 same-sex applications.
Most of them came in the first couple of weeks following the ruling, he said, as long-time couples formalized their relationships. Since then, he said, there have been two or three per month.
Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe was on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment.
Boone County Clerk Kenny Brown did not return repeated calls for comment. He stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether for a few days after the ruling, and had pushed for a statewide same-sex marriage ban in 2004.
None of the court officials or county clerks reported having any problems related to same-sex license applications.
Scott Knox, an attorney who works with many same-sex couples, said every couple he’s talked with who got a license in Hamilton County felt not only accepted, but celebrated.
It was not just a matter of a clerk rolling his eyes and doing his job, he added.
“Given how a few other jurisdictions have responded, I’m very proud of our court,” he said.
Powers officiates marriages three or four times a year, she said, and did so last week. It was typical, in that she had one same-sex couple and five opposite-sex couples.
Everyone in the courtroom cheered after each couple was married, including after the two women were married, Powers said.
“You hear that people are so strong against (same-sex marriage), but I haven’t experienced that,” she said. “It’s really neat that everyone accepts it and the community is behind it. It’s very nice to see that in Hamilton County.”