Ohio’s same-sex marriage backers work against election deadline

MARIETTA – It’s not even on the ballot yet, but people are already lining up in support of and opposition to a proposed Ohio constitutional amendment that would legalize same-sex marriage.

The amendment would define marriage as “a union of two consenting adults not nearer of kin than second cousins, and not having a husband or wife living.” It includes a provision that no religious institutions would be required to either perform or recognize a marriage.

If approved, Ohio would become the 10th state to legalize same sex marriage.

To 22-year-old Little Hocking resident Anthony Hennen, that sounds like the right way to go.

“I would prefer government to get completely out of the business of saying who can and can’t get married,” he said. “My main concern is about equality before the law rather than determining any sort of religious definition of it.”

Hennen said his main concern is that everyone is treated the same in the eyes of the law.

“It’s not necessarily a partisan issue or anything like that. I think it’s one of the fundamental rights of any individual in the United States,” he said.

Coal Run resident Joan Barton, 55, said if the issue appears on the ballot she will vote against it because she believes marriage is sanctioned by God and defined in the Bible.

“Marriage is for a man and a woman. It is not a union of two men or two women,” she said. “Sure it can be a family, but it’s not a marriage.”

Expanding the definition of such a union is “taking the sanctity of marriage and making it little,” Barton said.

The amendment is aimed at extending rights to homosexual couples while respecting people’s religious beliefs, said Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, the organization backing the amendment.

“Ultimately, Ohioans want to be fair,” he said. “They want a couple, regardless of their gender … to be able to care for and protect their families.”

Meanwhile, Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values is readying its own campaign to defeat the amendment. CCV President Phil Burress declined to discuss their potential strategy, but noted that last year the organization traveled to all 88 of Ohio’s counties, promoting the message “Vote Your Values” and delivered voter guides to approximately 10,000 “conservative” churches.

“If people of faith show up to vote, then they win every time,” he said.

Backers of the proposed amendment must submit at least 385,245 valid signatures to the Ohio secretary of state by July 3 to place the issue on the November ballot.

James did not reveal how many signatures have been collected so far but said the effort is “very far along” and gaining momentum after U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, of Ohio, became the first Republican senator to endorse same-sex marriage. He also pointed to polls showing changing attitudes toward same-sex marriage, including one commissioned earlier this month by the Columbus Dispatch that showed 54 percent of respondents back the proposed amendment.

“This thing is a rocket ship. It’s not going to stop,” James said.

Burress questioned that momentum, however, pointing out that the ballot language for the amendment was approved last year.

“I find it very interesting that they’re still collecting signatures in the first place,” he said.

Burress spearheaded the 2004 campaign to amend the constitution with language defining marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman” and prohibiting the creation of arrangements that attempt to replicate the effects of marriage for unmarried individuals. He said it was easy to collect far more valid signatures than were required.

The 2004 measure passed with the support of 62 percent of Ohio voters and a majority in every county except Athens, according to the secretary of state’s website.

And today, “we’re much more organized than we were in 2004,” Burress said.

James said FreedomOhio has taken its time preparing for the signature drive and he’s confident there will be plenty of valid signatures collected.

“It’s a monumental task. It’s an all-volunteer effort,” he said.

While many expect the issue to appear on the November ballot, that decision hasn’t been finalized. James said the three factors they’re considering are whether they can gather enough signatures, whether polling indicates they can win and whether they have the resources to conduct an effective campaign. The answers to the first two are yes, he said; the third will be reassessed in June.

Burress said some people are concerned that delaying the vote until the fall of 2014 – constitutional amendments must appear on general election, not primary, ballots – will provide a boost for Gov. John Kasich’s re-election, much like the 2004 measure benefited President George W. Bush.

James said other races are not a factor in FreedomOhio’s decision.

“This issue does not get filed to hurt or help any party,” he said. “The issue is filed only to help families best protect and care for themselves.” In some cases, hospital visitation policies do not afford same-sex partners the same rights as married spouses. There are also more than 1,100 statutes in which marital status is relevant, dealing with tax breaks for married couples, Social Security survivor benefits and, for federal employees, health insurance and leave to care for spouses, according to the Associated Press. Those rights are also not given under civil unions.

Burress described marriage as “the cornerstone of America” and said that “if you destroy marriage, you destroy America.”

“That argument means that you should be able to marry whoever you want – your brother, your sister, your cousin, whoever,” Burress said. “Is that what they want?”

It’s not, James said.

“That’s not what we support. If someone else supports that then that’s their prerogative,” he said.