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Six marriage appeals before 6th Circuit ring familiar bell in Cincinnati

Monday, August 4, 2014
Alphonse Gerhardstein Al Behrman, AP

Attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein, right, during a February 2014 news conference in Cincinnati with several same-sex couples he is representing in a federal civil rights lawsuit over gay marriage rights. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Cincinnati about the constitutionality of marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee. Cincinnati has been the scene before of heated debate over gay rights. (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

CincinnatiAl Behrman, AP (File)

In this Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004 file photo, in Cincinnati, supporters of Issue 3 cheer as early voting results showed voters were going to throw out the city’s 11-year-old ban on gay rights laws.

“Cincinnati became known nationwide as a city with an ‘anti-gay’ law,” The Cincinnati Enquirer stated in a 2004 editorial, saying the “damage has been pervasive and expensive.”

Gay people were leaving town or refusing jobs in Cincinnati, the city lost tens of millions of dollars in convention business from groups who canceled plans, and convention officials said other groups informed them they wouldn’t consider holding conventions here because of the perceived hostility to gay people.

Phil BurressTom Uhlman, AP (File)

Conservative activist and gay marriage opponent Phil Burress, of Citizens for Community Values (CCV), in his Cincinnati office in 2006.

Coming in the aftermath of 2001 race riots that led to a convention boycott over police treatment of blacks, the campaign to repeal the charter amendment added to an image of intolerance.

“I think people decided, ‘That’s really not how we want to see ourselves,'” Gerhardstein said.

Seelbach credits years of door-to-door campaigning, talking to people face-to-face and explaining the need for equal protections. Key business leaders worked together to push for change. Voters supported the 2004 charter repeal, in 2005 Mark Mallory became the first directly elected black mayor, the city hired its first black police chief in 2011, and Seelbach was elected that year and re-elected in 2013.

More subtly, “Star Trek” actor and gay rights advocate George Takei served as grand marshal last year of the city’s popular Oktoberfest Zinzinnati celebration. And Mayor John Cranley recently addressed another area for diversity, launching an initiative aimed at making Cincinnati “the most immigrant-friendly city” in the country.

Meanwhile, people on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue plan demonstrations in Cincinnati this week. A major outdoor rally is planned Tuesday evening in support of gay rights.

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“I think Cincinnati like every other part of Ohio and, quite frankly, every other part of the country has seen a dramatic shift in public opinion,” said former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who will speak at that rally. ” … And so I don’t think that we can take what’s happened in the past – even in the rather recent past – and assume that it reflects public attitudes today.”

Burress’ group has urged prayer vigils urging the judges to uphold marriage defined as between a man and a woman. He said during the arguments, people will walk and pray quietly outside the downtown federal court building.

“We’re on the defense,” Burress said. “We’re defending the institution of marriage.”

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