Would the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage passed by an overwhelming majority of Ohioans in 2004 pass if it were on the ballot today?
We may soon find out.
We went through an entire presidential election cycle with barely a peep from the candidates on social issues such as gay marriage.
Now, though, the debate over gay marriage is front and center in Ohio.
Gay marriage – and the constitutional amendment banning it which Ohio voters passed overwhelmingly in 2004 – has been boiling just below the surface of Ohio politics, as a group called FreedomOhio has been quietly going about the business of gathering the nearly 386,000 voter signatures they will need to put a repeal of the gay marriage ban on the ballot, maybe as early as this November.
Then, things heated up a bit.
About two weeks ago, Ohio’s junior senator, Republican Rob Portman, who has always had good relations with the social conservative wing of his party, came out in favor of gay marriage rights – a result, he said, of much soul-searching after learning that his son, Will, is gay.
Portman’s conclusion was that his son – and all other gay and lesbian people – should have the same opportunity to have a loving, lasting, and legal relationship as he and his wife Jane have had for the past 26 years.
That was a shocker, putting Portman outside the mainstream of his political party.
Of course, after Portman’s announcement, other Republican politicians were asked their views on the subject, including Ohio governor John Kasich.
On Wednesday, he told a Cleveland TV station he was in favor of civil unions, a legal partnership similar to marriage. And something that is banned in Ohio, under the 2004 constitutional amendment.
Kasich’s press office scrambled to put out a statement that the governor is, in fact, not in favor of civil unions – or gay marriage, for that matter.
“The governor’s position is unchanged,’’ Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said in a statement. “He opposes gay marriage and opposes changing Ohio’s constitution to allow for civil unions.”
In other words, the governor mis-spoke.
Now, Portman, when asked by reporters about the constitutional amendment and the effort to repeal it, said he wouldn’t go out and actively campaign to have it repealed, but said Ohioans will know his opinion on the subject.
All of this has given FreedomOhio a boost, although its leaders can’t promise that they will be able to get the issue on the ballot this year.
They want to repeal the current constitutional amendment and replace it with one that contains these 46 words:
“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.”
There is plenty of evidence that public attitudes in the U.S. have changed on the subject of gay marriage since 2004.
In that year, a surge of “values voters” – evangelical Christians and conservative Catholic – went to the polls and voted for the gay marriage ban. The final result – 62 percent for, 38 percent against. And those voters also ended up voting for George W. Bush for president, enabling him to win Ohio and, thus, a second term in the White House.
Last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll, showed that 58 percent of Americans now believe it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry. In 2003, that number was at 37 percent.
A Columbus Dispatch poll released Sunday showed that, now, a majority of Ohioans - 54 percent - say they favor repealing the 2004 gay marriage ban.
But social conservative leaders say they would put up a fight if the issue makes the ballot; and believe they would win.
“Ohio is not the rest of the country,’’ Phil Burress, the chairman of the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, told WVXU. His social conservative group was deeply involved in the 2004 campaign.
If FreedomOhio is successful in getting its same-sex marriage amendment on the ballot, either this year or in the near future, Burress said the “values voters” would mobilize again.
“We have about 17,000 churches in Ohio,’’ said Burress. “We have a data base of values voters we can turn out, just like that. And, for them, (gay marriage) is a non-negotiable issue.’’
Ian James, a co-founder of FreedomOhio, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently that Portman’s coming out in favor of gay marriage will have a big impact on Ohioans; and that he sees public opinion changing.
“This state, this country, is moving in the right direction,’’ James told the Plain Dealer. “And it’s moving fast.”
There is only one way to find out for sure – when Ohioans go to the polls and are asked for a “do-over” on the subject of gay marriage.