While California has stolen the spotlight from other states this month with legalized marriage for same-sex couples, important legal victories for the LGBT community are also occurring elsewhere in the country. As marriage becomes an option for same-sex partners in progressively more states, those states also need to establish systems to safeguard the rights of partners and their children in the event of a separation or divorce. Even in states that do not currently extend full marriage rights to same-sex couples, these protections can save couples a lot of heartache--and state governments a lot of personnel time for legal hearings.
In a surprising turn of events, the State of Ohio has emerged with a key ruling on this issue despite having an amendment specifically banning gay marriage within its Constitution. Yesterday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that this amendment cannot alter child custody agreements between partners of the same gender. The custody battle between Denise Fairchild and Therese Leach has garnered significant attention in the media, and has finally concluded with the court's assertion that the integrity of the Agreed Entry consent decree guaranteeing joint custody of Fairchild and Leach's son stands independently of the Constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.
This ruling marks an important step forwards for states whose Constitutions currently contain amendments banning gay marriage, because it acknowledges the fitness of LGBT individuals for the same familial roles that heterosexuals play, and legitimizes the ability of LGBT parents to protect their children's best interests by remaining actively involved in their lives after a separation. Since the idea that raising children constitutes a core purpose of marriage has long been used by opponents of same-sex legal unions, yesterday's decision sets an important precedent for future gay marriage policy action by demonstrating the instrumental role that parents of homosexual and bisexual orientation play in society.
Implicit in the Ohio decision is the idea that relationship commitments and parenthood are active choices that any responsible consenting adult should be able to make, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. While Ohio has yet to acknowledge fully the legitimacy of same-sex marital unions, this ruling deals a major blow to opponents of such action, and holds promise for shaping the course of future State and national policy on gay marriage in a progressive manner.