Athens’ LGBT Community Reacts To Supreme Court Rulings

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Casa Cantina is no stranger to a diverse and eclectic crowd of customers. With Brew Week festivities in full swing, Wednesday night was no exception.

But for a group of patrons gathered in one corner of the restaurant the night was even merrier. Members and supporters of Athens’ LGBT community were riding an emotional high, and it wasn’t from the homebrews.

Many were elated after hearing Wednesday's announcement of two historic rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States that paves the way for federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and once again allows same-sex couples in California to get married.

There were plenty of smiles, hugs and wild gestures as people like Michael Pistrui recalled the moment they heard the news. The ruling struck close to home for Michael and his partner Paul Patton, who held a commitment ceremony just about a month shy of one year ago at the Unitarian church in Athens.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I was working with my grandfather and I actually scared him,” Pistrui said. “He was like, ‘Oh my god, what?’ and I told him what happened.”

Two thousand miles away in Napa, California, Ohio University alumna Stephanie Savage made sure she was up and ready by 7 a.m. on the day of the ruling.

“I made sure I was out of the shower so I wouldn’t miss it,” she said.

Savage and her wife Jess, who have been together for 10 years, were just one of 18,000 couples legally married in California in a five-month period before the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008 put a halt to marriage equality in the state. She says she never imagined she would see marriage equality in her lifetime.

“I think in the past couple of years there has been a major shift in people’s view on gay and lesbian people,” she said. “[People] realize we are normal. We have regular lives. Some couples have kids. We pay our taxes. Public opinion and public support is changing. I personally think it is something of a generational thing.”

Back at Casa Cantina the generational divide was readily apparent among a table of OU students. The group of friends included two young women and five men – only two of whom are gay. For this group of young people, the issue is a non-issue.

“It is two people solidifying that they really like each other, it shouldn’t be more complicated than that,” senior John Stathopoulos said.

Polls conducted by the Pew Research Center over a period of a decade from 2001 to 2011 highlight the generational divide. In 2011, 32 percent of “Baby Boomers”, those born between 1946 and 1964, favored gay marriage. Compare that with 51 percent of the “Millennial” generation, those born in 1981 or later.

Fast-forward ten years to 2011 and 64 percent of “Millennials” favor gay marriage compared to 37 percent of “Baby Boomers.”

But despite the shift in attitudes, gays and lesbians in Ohio still have a fight ahead of them. The ruling on DOMA does not necessarily grant federal benefits to same-sex couples married in another state since Ohio bans same-sex marriage.

And so for people like Michael and his partner the joy and celebration is tempered by a reality that the fight, at least in Ohio, isn’t over.

“I kind of want to stay and be on the forefront of that battlefield and be married in the state I call my home,” Patton said.