Marriage equality has made significant progress in the past few years, as nine states and Washington, D.C. have legalized same-sex marriage since 2011, President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage in May 2012 and the Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 in June 2013.
Now many eyes have turned toward the movement in Ohio as supporters work to gather support for a constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot.
The amendment would define marriage as a “union of two consenting adults not nearer of kin than second cousins, and not having a husband or wife living, and no religious institution shall be required to perform or recognize a marriage,” and needs 100,00 signatures to be put on the ballot.
Ian James, co-founder of the pro-marriage equality political group FreedomOhio, believes that this amendment has a few key advantages that could help encourage its success.
“Our amendment assures that religious institutions have freedom to reject and not to recognize marriage,” James said. “We also have a very smartly and constitutionally sound amendment that is short and easy to understand.”
This is the first effort to change Ohio’s state constitution, and people like James are hopeful about its future based off of polling data. A Saperstein poll in March 2013 for the Columbus Dispatch reported that 54 percent of Ohioans support amending the state constitution in favor of gay marriage.
However, a more recent survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute in September 2013 found that the public was split on the issue of gay marriage, with both the supporters and opposition tying at 47 percent.
Advocates agree that they need to rally and gather support for their amendment. One way they are doing this, according to James, is through “the process of having the conversation of why marriage matters.”
The educational campaign associated with this message, called Why Marriage Matters Ohio, was created through a collaboration of both local and national organizations, including Equality Ohio, the national Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the ACLU Foundation of Ohio. It launched on Sept. 9, 2013 and its goal, according to Grant Stancliff, communications director for Equality Ohio, is to gather more backing for a move toward marriage equality.
“Why Marriage Matters Ohio is a campaign to tell stories about regular, everyday Ohio couples that happen to be same-sex. We need to increase public support for same-sex marriage in order to make it a reality in Ohio,” Stancliff said.
However, Stancliff also noted that increased activity surrounding marriage equality also prompts those who disagree with gay marriage to speak out against the amendment.
“The spread of awareness about marriage equality is two-sided. It helps grow support, but it also mobilizes the opposition. We have to be careful, intentional, and act only when the polling says we have sufficient support,” Stancliff said. “We can’t afford to lose.”
Despite the opposition, the marriage equality movement has found some bipartisan support. For example, Rob Portman became the only sitting Republican Senator to back same-sex marriage after changing his stance earlier this year because of his own son’s sexuality.
A marriage equality amendment in Ohio’s constitution, according to Stancliff, could have a powerful impact on the same-sex marriage debate in other states, as Ohio is “a state that can have a major impact on other states.”
James agrees with the importance of Ohio’s stance on marriage, and also thinks that the changes seen in other areas like New Jersey’s law legalizing same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court ruling have encouraged action in Ohio.
“The saying ‘As Ohio goes so goes the nation’ holds true…the momentum from New Jersey, the momentum from the Supreme Court only helps the campaign” James said. “There used to be a sense that it can’t be done…but that sense of impossibility has given way to a sense of inevitability.”