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

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. Al Behrman, AP (File)

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

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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