Gay marriage advocates to wait until 2014 to put issue before Ohio voters


BOB VITALE | Outlook COlumbus

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The group collecting signatures for a referendum on marriage equality in Ohio says it will wait until 2014 to put the issue before voters.

Freedom Ohio board members have decided to delay their request for a statewide ballot measure that would extend marriage rights to lesbian and gay couples, co-founder Ian James said.

James said he’s certain supporters will gather the 385,000-plus signatures required for a vote, and he said he’s confident Ohioans would back a measure even now.

“We have decided to be on the ballot in 2014 to allow for a continuing dialogue with voters across Ohio about why marriage matters,” he said. “We will continue to build upon the hundreds of thousands of conversations we’ve had already, to identify supportive voters, and to raise the resources necessary to mobilize a full-on campaign.”

Waiting also might bring bigger, better-funded national organizations on board.

James said Freedom Ohio leaders met today with representatives from the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Ohio, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, National Freedom to Marry, the Gill Action Fund, the American Unity Fund and the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center to discuss how they might be involved.

The Human Rights Campaign and Equality Ohio have kept their distance from Freedom Ohio’s effort over the last year, and HRC hasn’t included any marriage-equality efforts in Ohio in its regular news updates from around the country.

But at Saturday’s Human Rights Campaign Gala in Columbus, HRC President Chad Griffin said his organization’s goal is marriage equality in all 50 states, “and yes, that means right here in the state of Ohio.”

“Today’s meeting was only the beginning of the effort to chart a strategic plan to achieve marriage equality in Ohio,” Equality Ohio Executive Director Elyzabeth Holford said in a statement released through Freedom Ohio. “We all recognize our responsibility to Ohioans to make sure we get this right. And I know that together, we will. When we do move forward it will be with the same strong partners as the other successful states.”

Waiting a year will give Freedom Ohio time to raise the money and put together the campaign necessary to ensure victory, James said.

“This is not about waging a race and coming up short,” he told Outlook. “This is about ultimately winning the right to marry. Would I like to see us have marriage today? Absolutely. Do I think we’ll win? Yes.”

“But there’s the unknown out there. What will the opposition do? We’re not yet properly set resource-wise to run a campaign we know can win. That takes more time and more resources.”

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A Columbus Dispatch poll in March found that 54 percent of Ohio voters support and 40 percent oppose Freedom Ohio’s proposed amendment to the state constitution, which would grant gay and lesbian people the right to marry in Ohio but ensure the rights of religious institutions to refuse weddings for people they don’t like.

The measure would overturn a 2004 constitutional amendment, approved by 62 percent of Ohio voters, that allows men and women only to marry someone of the opposite sex.

Waiting until 2014 would put marriage equality on the ballot along with races for governor and other statewide offices, as well as seats in the Ohio General Assembly and U.S. Congress.

Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, opposes marriage rights and even the idea of civil unions for gay and lesbian people. Democrat Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive who is Kasich’s only challenger so far, said last week in an interview with Outlook Columbus that he supports marriage equality and would vote for a proposed amendment whenever it’s on the ballot.

The delay in going to the ballot doesn’t mean Freedom Ohio will slow down, James said.

He said the organization has brought a professional fundraiser on board and will have 3,500 volunteers working across the state throughout the summer and fall. It will begin organizing on college campuses later this year, too, he said.

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