Will Ohio reverse course on same-sex marriage in 2014?

Dec 28, 2013

It is widely believed that, in 2004, George W. Bush won a second term in the White House because Ohio had a constitutional amendment on the ballot banning same-sex marriage.

The electoral college contest between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, came down to Ohio. Ohio’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage brought out evangelical Christian voters in droves – the so-called “values voters.”

Bush won Ohio’s electoral votes by 118,775 out of about 5.6 million votes cast. And the surge in votes came, in large part, from southwest Ohio counties, where the same-sex marriage ban helped bring out voters.

The constitutional ban on same-sex marriages passed with nearly 62 percent of the vote.

That was then; this is now.

In a few days, we will be into 2014 – a year where the incumbent Republican governor, John Kasich, is up for re-election, as well as all of the other GOP statewide officeholders.

It is also a year where Ohio voters are likely to go to the polls in November and be confronted once again with the same-sex marriage question – this time, a constitutional amendment that would replace the 2004 ban with a constitutional guarantee to the right for couples of the same sex to marry and have their marriages recognized by the state of Ohio.

FreedomOhio, an organization of supporters of same-sex marriage, said last week the group has already exceeded the 385,247 signatures they need to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot next fall. Leaders of the group won’t say exactly how many they have at this point.

Of course, not all of those signatures are going to be valid, so FreedomOhio is continuing its petition drive; and hopes to have more than one million signatures before the filing deadline in July.

The group has already met a second requirement of Ohio election law for ballot issues – gathering signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Will it drive out throngs of pro-gay marriage voters the way the ban on same-sex marriage did in 2004?

Or will they be negated by another outpouring of “values voters” going to the polls to preserve the ban, perhaps cancelling each other out.

There is some evidence that, nearly 10 years later, Ohioans may have changed their minds about gay marriage.

Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina polling firm, was hired by FreedomOhio, a pro-gay marriage group, to poll 1.011 Ohio voters on whether or not they would support a new constitutional amendment to allow same sex marriage. FreedomOhio hired two other pollsters, one Democrat and one Republican, to look at the numbers and give “oversight and analysis of the survey instrument and data.”

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, showed that 52 percent said they would support a “freedom to marry” amendment. When told that the constitutional amendment would contain language saying that religious institutions would not be required to perform or recognize such marriages, the support jumped up to 56 percent.

The language of the constitutional amendment is simple:

“In the state of Ohio and its political subdivisions, marriage shall be a union of two consenting adults not nearer of kin than second cousins, and not having a husband or wife living, and no religious institution shall be required to perform or recognize a marriage.”

Here’s the language of the amendment passed in 2004:

“Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships or unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.”

That constitutional amendment took a body blow last week in U.S. District Court here when Judge Timothy Black ordered that the state recognize same sex marriages on death certificates – an issue raised by two gay men who married their partners out of state and whose spouses then died.

Black’s decision did not strike down the 2004 constitutional amendment, but it is likely to spur more federal lawsuits aiming to do just that.

Meanwhile, the petition drive for the new constitutional amendment goes on – armed with a poll showing they have a good chance at success in November.

Phil Burress, who heads the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values (CCV), said he doesn’t believe the poll commissioned by FreedomOhio is anywhere close to the truth when it comes to Ohioans and their views on same-sex marriage.

“There is no other issue in the country where the polls have been so consistently wrong,’’ said Burress, whose CCV organization played a key role in passing the 2004 constitutional ban.

And, Burress said, there is no other state in the nation where voters, once they have approved a gay marriage ban, have undone it at the polls.

“The good news for us is that in 2012, when they first started talking about putting this issue on the ballot, we started planning a ground game to defeat it. And we have pastors in every county in Ohio ready to go to work on this.”

If the issue makes the November ballot, both sides will have massive, well-funded ground organizations geared up to find their voters and get them to the polls. And the issue will, no doubt, spill over into the race between Kasich, who opposes same-sex marriage; and the likely Democratic nominee for governor, Ed FitzGerald, who supports it.

It is an issue that could have an enormous impact, up and down the ticket in statewide and even local races. And it all depends on which side is better organized.