Ohio Democrats asking gay marriage supporters to donate to effort they haven’t backed

Ohio Democrats asking gay marriage supporters to donate to effort they haven’t backed

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Democratic Party is asking marriage-supporting donors for money to help “pass a referendum recognizing equality,” but leaders haven’t endorsed the only effort under way in the state to put the issue on the ballot for voters.

Spokesman Jerid Kurtz said fundraising emails that have gone out Thursday and today are about the party’s endorsement for the “idea of marriage equality” and its backing of candidates who support marriage equality as well.

The pitches, however, use the word “referendum” and express the party’s desire to add Ohio quickly to the list of states that allow LGBT people to marry.

The letter comes on the heels of legislation signed this month in Rhode Island and Delaware that made those states the 10th and 11th in the nation to extend marriage rights.

It’s highly unlikely Ohio would enact marriage equality anytime soon: The Legislature is firmly in GOP hands, Republican Gov. John Kasich opposes even the idea of civil unions for same-sex couples, and Minnesota’s governor is expected to sign legislation there as soon as it passes in the state Senate on Monday.

But some are taking the Ohio party’s effort as an indication that party leaders are moving toward support of the proposed Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment, which would extend marriage rights in the state to LGBT people while ensuring the ability of religious institutions to refuse weddings for anyone they don’t like.

Ian James, founder of Freedom Ohio, the group circulating petitions for the proposed amendment to the state constitution, said he met with Ohio Democratic Party officials yesterday to ask for their endorsement. Kurtz said the party hasn’t made any decision.

A number of county Democratic parties in Ohio already have endorsed the amendment, as have individual party leaders and Democratic elected officials. Franklin County Democrats are among those listed on Freedom Ohio’s website as endorsing the group.

“We’re actually trying to win marriage equality, not the concept of it,” James said. “It’s difficult to support the concept without supporting the actual vehicle.”

The state party’s executive committee voted in December to back marriage equality, but Kurtz said that statement didn’t back any particular measure or legislative effort.

The latest fundraising appeals, though, might lead people to believe the party is on board with Freedom Ohio’s campaign.

“This week Delaware became the 11th state in the nation to recognize marriage equality,” the pitch from Thursday reads. “Isn’t it time that we make Ohio the 12th state to recognize marriage equality? Chip in today to help us mobilize our efforts to promote marriage equality.”

Today’s appeal, an email written by Cleveland activist Lynnie Powell and send from the party’s address, criticizes Kasich for his opposition to marriage equality and refers to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern’s Thursday appeal “committing ODP’s strong support for marriage equality.”

“Yesterday, Chris asked us to contribute $12 to help ODP pass a referendum recognizing equality. That effort is going to take more than $12. It could be millions! But, it starts with $12. I hope you’ll join me,” Powell wrote.

Asked whether money raised using the marriage-equality pitch will go to the campaigns of Ohio Democrats who don’t support equality, Kurtz said the party’s financial help for pro-marriage candidates will far outweigh the money it raises through the current emails.

James said Freedom Ohio is well on its way to collecting the 385,000-plus signatures needed to put its marriage-equality amendment on the statewide ballot. He said the group expects to raise at least $500,000 by mid-year as well.

Freedom Ohio has not yet decided whether to go forward with a statewide campaign this year, however. That will depend on fundraising and other factors such as support in public-opinion polls.

The signatures collected don’t expire this year.

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