Ohio’s same-sex marriage debate goes beyond courtroom

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AP (File)

AP (File)

“Marriage equality is coming,” said Michael Premo, the campaign’s manager. “It is not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.”

Ohio‘s ban has no chance of being overturned by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. So the group is waiting to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide next year before it considers a ballot initiative.

Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions around the country since the nation’s high court struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year.

Marc Solomon, Freedom to Marry‘s national campaign director, said given those victories, the organization’s focus for now is on the courts. The state also is a top investment priority for the group. It’s spending $500,000 to support Why Marriage Matters Ohio’s campaign offices and organizers in Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo and Cleveland.

“If we don’t prevail in the court, we are absolutely laying the groundwork for a ballot fight,” Solomon said.

The coalition would plan to ask voters to overturn the state’s ban in 2016 – when more supporters would likely turn out in the presidential election year.

In a bellwether state closely watched for its presidential vote, the stakes for a gay marriage victory are high.

“When we win Ohio, that’s the ball game,” Premo said. “Because when we win in Ohio, that will say to states across the county that it’s possible there, too.”

Opponents of same-sex marriage say Ohioans already decided the issue in 2004, when 62 percent of voters supported the state’s constitutional amendment to ban it.

The leader of a conservative group that promoted the amendment’s passage said its backers would be prepared to defend it.

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Phil Burress, president of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values, said his organization has a voter database of supporters, volunteers and 10,000 churches prepared to get people to the polls as they did in 2004.

“We’re mobilized,” Burress said. “We’re ready whenever they decide to launch their campaign. But in the meantime, we’re not sure they’re ever going to be on the ballot.”

Columbus resident Claire Bramli is among those wanting to vote on the issue. She and her fiancee, who is a transgender woman, hope to get married in Ohio.

“All these states are striking it down,” Bramli, 40, said while watching a gay pride parade last month. “Why not give us a chance?”

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