Marriage equality efforts underway in Ohio

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Gay rights supporters said that they plan to build support for same-sex marriage in Ohio, while remaining separate from a ballot effort to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban next year.

Backers of the issue are split over when to put a constitutional amendment before voters in the perennial presidential swing state.

The group FreedomOhio is seeking to repeal and replace Ohio’s prohibition on gay marriage by amending the state constitution to allow two consenting adults to marry regardless of gender. The proposal wouldn’t require churches and other religious institutions to perform or recognize a marriage.

Supporters of the replacement amendment have been circulating petitions for more than a year. They need more than 385,000 valid signatures by next July to get the issue before voters in November 2014.

An April poll by Quinnipiac University found that 48 percent of Ohioans support same-sex marriage, while 44 percent said they were opposed. The phone survey of 1,138 registered voters was taken April 10-15 and had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Those numbers and other polls have indicated support is not strong enough yet, said Elyzabeth Holford, executive director for Equality Ohio.

Holford said her advocacy organization will instead focus on voter education in partnership with the national group Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Ohio.

Ohio’s ban on gay marriage was supported by 62 percent of voters in 2004.

The leader of a conservative group that promoted passage of the ban has said its backers began organizing last year and were prepared to defend the current amendment.

Equality Ohio and its coalition said they would have a robust campaign in support of same-sex marriage. They planned to share couples’ stories through door-to-door canvassing and possibly paid advertisements.

“We have to get this message out,” Holford said. “We have to change the numbers. We have to be a part of changing the hearts and the minds of Ohio.”

The groups announced their separate campaign, called Why Marriage Matters Ohio, at events earlier this week in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Holford declined to discuss the amount of financial support behind the effort.

Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, welcomed the campaign. He said it would help voters become more aware of the issue.

“We’re glad they’re working in Ohio,” James said in a telephone interview. “We think Ohio will be ready to go in November 2014, but there are still 14 months to work toward that end. And we’re going to make every single day count.”

Both FreedomOhio and the other advocates contend each has asked the other to get involved their initiatives.

“There will be an amendment on the ballot, the question is when,” Holford said. “And when is when the time is right. And when the time is right in Ohio is when the numbers are good.”