News (USA)

Head of N.J. marriage equality campaign leading new push to repeal Ohio ban

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The last blog post on the website for New Jersey United for Marriage is dated Oct. 21, the day gay and lesbian couples began getting marriage licenses across the state.

It says: “We won!”

But now, the manager of that effort has moved to Ohio, where he’ll run an educational campaign that’s building support for an eventual push to repeal the 2004 state constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage.

Michael Premo
Michael Premo

Michael Premo, a veteran political operative who has run local, state and federal campaigns in Michigan, New York and New Jersey, will be introduced today as the campaign manager for Why Marriage Matters Ohio, an effort launched in September by Equality Ohio, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

“I’m champing at the bit to get going,” Premo said yesterday in an interview with Outlook. “I think both sides rightly recognize: As goes Ohio, so goes the nation. When we win in Ohio, that’s going to generate a huge burst of momentum.”

But Premo echoes the feelings of his new bosses, who have disagreed with the timing of a separate effort under way to push marriage equality to the Ohio ballot in 2014. Freedom Ohio says it already has enough signatures for ballot measure that would replace Ohio’s 10-year-old marriage ban with what’s called the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment.

Premo wouldn’t set a date for a Why Marriage Matters-led ballot campaign, but he said it will be dictated by the progress made on winning Ohioans’ support, not by national groups’ state-by-state priorities lists.

“The only criteria we’re going to use is when can we win,” he said. “I think as of right now, if we got every single person who supports marriage equality out to vote, we would fall short. People are movable. It’s just that those conversations have to happen.”

Ohio polls have shown mixed results on marriage equality.

Premo said the strategy for Why Marriage Matters Ohio will be similar to the effort at New Jersey United for Marriage, even though the latter state’s campaign was focused on overriding Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of marriage-equality legislation.

A state court eventually ruled that lesbian and gay couples had the right to marry, and Christie dropped a planned appeal after the New Jersey Supreme Court said it wouldn’t stop marriages while it considered the matter.

Instead of recruiting supporters to contact state legislators, though, the Ohio campaign will concentrate on building support at a more grass-roots level. Why Marriage Matters has been asking gay and lesbian Ohioans to share their stories online and talk to others about how they’re affected by the lack of marriage rights.

The effort will continue to organize supporters across the state, with an emphasis on encouraging people of faith and local leaders to talk about marriage equality with others.

Premo has experience in all phases of political campaigns. He founded a consulting firm that offered services from recruiting volunteers to getting out the vote. He helped topple a sitting New Jersey Senate president in 2003 and win Michigan for Democrat John Kerry in 2004. He was named by as one of New Jersey’s top political operatives in 2005.

He has a wife but says he was motivated to work for marriage equality because he wanted to help his gay friends who are denied rights he is granted as a straight man.

“The best part of the victory in New Jersey was seeing the pictures of my friends who got married that night,” Premo said. “It is mind-boggling to me that loving and committed couples are denied that right simply because of their sexual orientation.”

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