Will Ohio reverse course on its gay marriage ban?
Round one in the battle took place in November 2004, when 62 percent of Ohioans voted in favor of a constitutional ban.
Round two could be right around the corner, possibly in November 2014, if FreedomOhio, a pro-gay marriage group, succeeds in getting a new constitutional amendment on the ballot.
FreedomOhio had a good week.
Last Monday, another prominent Ohio Republican, former attorney general and state auditor Jim Petro jumped feet-first into the FreedomOhio petition effort, saying he’s “all for it” and will be active in the campaign to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot and get it passed.
Petro, who opposed same-sex marriage in his 2006 run for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, changed his position last year after his daughter legally married a woman in Massachusetts, one of 13 states where such marriages are legal.
Petro’s leap from a supporter of same-sex marriage to an active participant in the effort to overturn Ohio’s ban came a few months after Ohio’s junior senator, Republican Rob Portman, said publicly that his son Will is gay and that his son and others who wish to do so should have the right to marry persons of the same sex.
Unlike Petro, Portman didn’t jump into the petition campaign, but he did say that, if the issue reaches the ballot, “people will know where I stand.”
Portman recently told WOSU that while he doesn’t believe that churches should be required to perform or recognize such marriages, “I do think that marriage ought to be allowed. So in Ohio where we currently have a ban, I would support changing that law.”
Earlier this week, in a conference call with reporters, Portman said he does not think there is a “big movement” of Republicans toward supporting same sex marriage.
“It’s probably more a generational thing than it is partisan,’’ Portman said.
Not all same-sex marriage proponents are on the same page about putting the issue on the ballot next year. Some national groups aren’t sure that 2014 – when Republican Gov. John Kasich is on the ballot for re-election – or even 2016, when there is a presidential election, are the right times to go for a reversal of Ohio’s ban.
Perhaps they remember 2004, when an out-pouring of evangelical Christian voters came out to vote for the ban on same-sex marriage and, in the process, voted for President George W. Bush. Many say it was the margin Bush needed to win Ohio; and, thus, a second term in the White House.
Nonetheless, FreedomOhio is pressing forward with its petition campaign.
They will need to gather at least 385,245 valid signatures of Ohio voters by next July 3, with the signatures coming from at least half of the state’s counties.
Daunting, but doable.
Article XV, Section 11 of the Ohio constitution contains the current ban on same-sex marriages in Ohio.
Backers of the petition drive want to replace it with the following language:
“In the state of Ohio and its political subdivisions, marriage shall be a union of two consenting adults not nearer in kin than second cousins, and not having a husband or wife living, and no religious institution shall be required to perform or recognize such a marriage.”
The constitutional amendment banning gay marriage passed by Ohio voters in 2004 had a whopping 62 percent support.
There is some evidence now, though, that public attitudes have shifted on this issue.
An April poll of Ohio voters by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute showed that 48 percent of Ohioans now favor allowing same sex couples to marry, while 44 percent oppose it.
Phil Burress, who heads Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a group that was instrumental in helping pass the gay marriage ban nine years ago, isn’t buying it.
“People can talk about polls all they want; I don’t think public attitudes have changed that much,’’ Burress said. “There may have been a small shift in opinion. If it were on the ballot, we’d still get 58 or 59 percent of the vote.”
If the FreedomOhio amendment makes the ballot, CCV will pull out all the stops, Burress said, mobilizing 10,000 “Bible-believing” churches in Ohio to make millions of voter contacts. And, Burress said, his group will be calling out candidates for statewide office and the state legislature on where they stand.
The other side will have substantial support from the Democrats, who generally support same-sex marriages, and a myriad of other “progressive” organizations, which will raise massive amounts of money and turn out volunteers by the thousands to persuade Ohio voters the time has come to allow persons of the same sex to marry.
The opponents of same-sex marriage are convinced it will give Kasich and other statewide GOP office-holders the kind of “Bush bounce” that took place in 2004.
Proponents of FreedomOhio’s constitutional amendment are convinced it will have the opposite effect, bringing out Democratic and independent voters in droves.
One thing is certain – it would be a heavyweight fight that would put the national spotlight on Ohio in 2014.
Ohio in the national spotlight? In a non-presidential year. Imagine that.