Ohio poll: Yes on anti-discrimination, mixed on marriage equality

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Most Ohio voters favor a law that would protect gay and lesbian people from on-the-job discrimination, but they’re not so sure about extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

A new poll by a national think tank finds Ohioans split evenly — 47 percent for and 47 percent against – on the issue of marriage equality. But 51 percent say they would vote against a potential 2014 ballot measure to amend the state constitution and allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

On the question of anti-discrimination laws, more than two-third of Ohio voters, as well as majorities of Catholics and evangelical Christians, say employers shouldn’t be able to fire gay and lesbian workers because of their sexual orientation.

“It shows the complexity of the issues,” said Elyzabeth Holford, executive director of Equality Ohio.

Although neither Congress nor the Ohio legislature has extended anti-discrimination laws to cover LGBT people, more than 80 percent of Ohio voters think such protections already exist.

The poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, based in Washington, D.C., didn’t include transgender discrimination in its questions, although the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act and Ohio’s proposed Equal Housing and Employment Act also would add protections from discrimination based on gender identity.

Holford said she found the poll results encouraging, both for efforts to secure employment protections and for the push for marriage rights for LGBT people in the state.

The poll, conducted from Aug. 8-15 through telephone interviews of nearly 900 registered voters, also found that 64 percent of Ohio voters favor some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples, either marriage (41 percent) or civil unions (23 percent).

When Ohioans banned both in 2004, a constitutional amendment forbidding any type of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples won support from 62 percent of voters.

“Marriage equality is doable in Ohio,” Holford said. “It shows this issue is complex. … We have to be strategic. We have to be tactical.”

Equality Ohio has pursued what Holford calls “a full pathway to dignity,” putting its emphasis on the push for an anti-discrimination law while laying the groundwork for marriage equality.

Holford said the overwhelming public support for expanding anti-discrimination laws in Ohio shows legislative leaders who’ve blocked such efforts are out of step with the rest of the state.

Freedom Ohio co-founder Ian James, whose group is collecting signatures for a 2014 marriage-equality ballot issue, said the trend of the latest poll and others shows marriage equality gaining support in Ohio.

“We’re 15 months out from the election,” he said. “This is a great place to be.”

James said the way the question by pollsters might have influenced the results. Voters were asked only if they supported or opposed changing Ohio’s constitution to allow legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

The 46-word amendment proposed by Freedom Ohio includes language protecting churches, synagogues, mosques and religious groups from being forced to perform marriages for anyone they don’t like. Its title is the Marriage Equality and Religious Freedom Amendment.

“We understand … that you have to be able to respect and protect religious freedom and define that in the amendment,” James said.

Still, he said, the results show supporters have work to do in educating Ohioans about the importance of marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.

The poll’s margin of error is 3.9 percent.

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