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Ohio’s same-sex marriage debate goes beyond courtroom

Ohio’s same-sex marriage debate goes beyond courtroom
Ohio gay marriage
Marriage equality supporters march to the office of Ohio Attorney Gen. Mike DeWine, in Columbus, Ohio, on May 15, 2014, to deliver petitions urging him to drop his appeal of a federal judge’s order on same-sex marriage. Ann Sanner, AP

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The debate over Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage extends beyond the courtroom to libraries, community centers, living rooms and city streets.

Supporters of same-sex marriage are holding town hall meetings and house parties to try to sway more Ohioans to their side. Other backers have circulated petitions at festivals and parades in a push to put the issue before voters. And opponents say their volunteers and 10,000 churches are ready to counter the efforts.

As a three-judge federal appeals panel prepares to hear two challenges to the state’s ban on Aug. 6, groups have been mobilizing for action beyond any court decision.

“We can’t rely solely on the court,” said Ian James, the co-founder of FreedomOhio, an organization supporting same-sex marriage.

The group collected about 650,000 signatures over the past two years as part of a ballot effort to repeal and replace Ohio’s prohibition on gay marriage.

But its proposal won’t go before voters this fall. The campaign’s plans were derailed in part by a lack of money. Organizers also revised the constitutional amendment to ease other gay rights activists’ concerns about the wording. The changes meant they had to start over and get new voter signatures.

James said support was there from Ohioans to overturn the ban in November, even if the money wasn’t.

“We will continue to collect and put the issue before voters, so that LGBT families have the freedom to marry and houses of worship have the freedom to perform a marriage,” James said.

Several leading gay rights groups opposed putting the issue on the ballot this year, contending Ohioans remain too closely divided to guarantee victory.

Surveys indicate the same. A May poll by Quinnipiac University shows Ohio voters support allowing same-sex couples to wed, 50 percent to 43 percent.

Instead of throwing their weight behind the ballot effort, national organizations Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign joined the state-based Equality Ohio and others to start the “Why Marriage Matters Ohio” campaign.

The coalition is recruiting faith leaders, small businesses, elected officials and volunteers to talk to Ohioans about same-sex marriage in an effort to change minds and increase support for gay marriage among residents.

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