An Interview with Suzanne Hamilton and Char Ligo of the Cleveland Human Rights Campaign

“On the agenda now is the protection of citizens regarding Religious Freedom Acts across the country.  Each year, HRC fights 150-200 such acts in various cities, townships, municipalities where the rights of LGBTQ US Citizens are challenged on the basis of religious freedom. 98% of those fights are wins (by HRC).”

 

Meet Suzanne Hamilton and Char Ligo; a married Northeast Ohio couple with backgrounds in human rights and activism. Suzanne and Char are active members of the Human Rights Campaign of Cleveland, Ohio. The Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than 3 million members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

 

Northeast Ohio Weddings Magazine: How long have you been with the Human Rights Campaign of Cleveland and what is your role within the organization? How did you first get involved?

Suzanne and Char: Suzanne began her volunteerism in 2002 with the Cleveland Gala which continued for a few years.  When she heard the HRC President speak on HRC and the Family at the Gala in 2004, she joined the Cleveland Steering Committee and became a Federal Club Member.  In 2006, she was elected to the national Board of Governors and served 6 years (max term).  In 2013, she was elected to the national Board of Directors and is serving her 6th year now.  She has been on the Cleveland Steering Committee the entire time in various local roles.  Char joined the Cleveland Steering Committee in 2008 as a Gala Chair for 2 years.  She was also elected to the Board of Governors and served for 4 years.  She served on the Cleveland Steering Committee for 7 years.

Northeast Ohio Weddings Magazine: What are some of the events the HRC of Cleveland host? Anything upcoming? 

Suzanne and Char: Locally, there are many throughout the year:  Bowling for Equality, Pride in the CLE, Pride brunch, several Federal Club events, and the annual Cleveland Gala.  The next event is the bowling event in January.

NEOW Mag: What was life like for you as a couple before you were married?

S & C: We knew each other for many years prior to dating.  When we were finally single at the same time, there was an “aha” moment, and we decided to date.  We were married in March of 2010, in Washington DC, right after the District passed marriage equality.  We have now been married 8.5 years.  I have a son from a prior same-sex relationship.  I was artificially inseminated.  Char stepped right in as a parent.  Hudson adores her.

NEOW Mag: Before your legal wedding, did you have a ceremony for just yourselves and your family to express your commitment towards one another or anything of the sort?

S & C: We did not have a ceremony, but we did register on the Cleveland domestic registry as a couple for recognition.  And my work place had domestic partner benefits, so Char has been on my insurance since I joined FFL 5 years ago.

NEOW Mag: Are there any negative experiences you recall regarding your marriage that you are comfortable sharing? What about positive experiences? 

S & C: It was negative having our marriage recognized only in certain states for several years until marriage equality passed by Supreme Court decision. So, there was uncertainty around things like, what happens if you’re in a car accident in a state without recognition, what happens in the event of an illness and the hospital doesn’t recognize the marriage (Ohio was not part of recognition until 2016), what if one of us dies and we have property together, what about my son, etc.?  Positive was being part of HRC and watching the turnaround across the country.  It was primarily a political/religious issue – 70% of Americans approved of same-sex marriage well before it passed by Federal law.

NEOW Mag: What organizations are you a part of regarding the LGBTQ community? 

S & C: Plexus (LGBTQ and Allied Chamber of Commerce), The LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland, AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland, Stonewall Democrats

NEOW Mag: Did you encounter any problems during your marriage process? Have any of these issues been resolved, or have they worsened? 

S & C: We were fortunate in having our ceremony in Washington DC. We also had a ceremony that included my son on St. John (US Virgin Islands). There were no direct issues as to being a same-sex couple. However, many people get resistance even with marriage equality regarding government workers who claim religious freedom and don’t want to provide a marriage certificate, or service providers who don’t want to provide services to same-sex couples (i.e. wedding cakes, etc.).

NEOW Mag: What kind of feedback did you receive from the community regarding your marriage? What about from the LGBTQ community? Were there any individuals against? 

S & C: People in general were supportive.  The only resistance, per se, at the time involved people who said they refused to be married until it was legal across the U.S.

NEOW Mag: Have you encountered any LGBTQ couples that don’t want to get married? Have you discussed why that may be? 

S & C: Oh, all the time.  Many prefer to keep their assets individual, which often makes me wonder if they aren’t secure in their relationship.  Just like any couple, some may just feel they don’t need a piece of paper to signify the importance of their relationship.  When couples want to have children, though, that is when you often see marriages.  For traditional reasons, I suppose.

NEOW Mag: What does marriage mean to you specifically? What does it signify and why is it special to you and your significant other? 

S & C: Marriage signifies dedication and commitment. It is a symbol of devotion.  As a role model for my son, I wanted him to have stability and a feeling of confidence in his parent figure(s).  It also means equality in more than 1,000 rights and benefits that only that piece of paper can provide:  social security benefits in the event of a spousal death, transfer of assets upon death, health care and other at-work benefits, medical power of attorney and the right to visit an ill spouse in a hospital or other institution, parental rights, etc.

 

NEOW Mag: What is the HRC specifically doing to further the agenda of same-sex marriage? Are there any other groups you are a part of that are doing anything to further advance the rights of same-sex couples regarding marriage? 

S & C: HRC was behind the work across the U.S. to achieve same-sex marriage.  The President, Chad Griffin, was on the Supreme Court steps when it was announced and was called by President Obama.  There isn’t any legal thing yet to gain in regard to marriage.  On the agenda now is the protection of citizens regarding Religious Freedom Acts across the country.  Each year, HRC fights 150-200 such acts in various cities, townships, municipalities where the rights of LGBTQ US Citizens are challenged on the basis of religious freedom.  98% of those fights are wins (by HRC).  The Equality Act is the current legislation, an act that has existed in some form for more than 10 years.  Currently, almost half of the states do not have protections for LGBTQ Americans related to nondiscrimination in the work place, where they live, or in public accommodations.  So, even though I am legally married, I can be fired at work for being married to a woman.  Really.  I can be denied credit to buy a house, or a lease for an apartment.  And I can be refused at a restaurant or other service organization without a basis of recourse.  The Equality Act would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to protected classes.  There are some cases that include these under the category of “sex” which is a protected class.  However, that is disputed all of the time, and the Trump Administration is actually trying to eliminate it.  I know, nice.  Anyhow, there is precedence, but The Equality Act would be a Federal law that sweeps the U.S. and eliminates any disputes.

NEOW Mag: Is there anything you would like to share with our readers regarding same-sex marriage? Any nuggets of wisdom for same-sex couples that are hesitant to get married or currently undergoing the process?

As with any marriage, be sure that you know your “other” person.  I like to say, be with them through every season and holiday.  And know your finances, their finances, etc. before you get married.  Finances, religion, children, and politics are in the top 5 reasons that couples fight!  I forget the fifth.  If you are able to, live in a place that has local nondiscrimination laws.  HRC.org is a good place to research.

 

Author: Wendy Pineda