Home Social Justice As Fight for Marriage Equality Continues, Focus Turns to Ohio

As Fight for Marriage Equality Continues, Focus Turns to Ohio

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Same-sex couples in Ohio may have reason to celebrate next November if the organization commonly known as Freedom to Marry Ohio succeeds on their current mission.

After voters in Washington, Minnesota, Maryland and Maine approved the legalization of same-sex marriage last Tuesday, it appears that other states, including Ohio, may soon follow their lead in 2013.

Freedom to Marry Ohio, or FreedomOhio for short, is circulating petitions and collecting signatures of voters, hoping to garner support for a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would permit same-sex marriage.

State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D) believes the voters of Ohio will play a strong role in deciding whether the amendment will be on the November 2013 ballot.

“[Marriage equality] will be in the hands of the people through ballot initiative,” said Phillips.

FreedomOhio’s proposed amendment, named Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom, would allow two consenting adults to marry regardless of gender. It would also permit religious institutions to use their own discretion when it comes to recognizing and performing marriages for same-sex couples.

The organization’s founder, Ian James, believes that a victory for marriage equality in Ohio could have big implications for the rest of the Midwest.

“When we win in Ohio, the potential for the rest of the Midwest becomes more real,” James said in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch.

In 2004, Ohio voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman, thus defeating a push toward equal marriage rights. Eight years later, though, it appears that the views of many Ohioans are shifting in regards to this issue.

According to a recent Public Policy Polling survey, 35 percent of Ohioans support full marriage equality, and 65 percent of voters – including 50 percent of Republicans – favor giving gay and lesbian couples some legal recognition.

These numbers are likely to have increased already, because the survey was conducted before President Obama spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage earlier this year. His stance may have played a part in his winning Ohio’s 18 electoral votes in this election, and his position is likely to have a continuous influence on Ohio voters.

“We certainly have seen a lot of change across the country, and the president’s strong stance will be helpful,” said Phillips.

Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile (D) agreed with Phillips. He believes the inclusive nature of the Democratic Party influenced how Ohio voted in this election, especially with regards to the president’s stance on marriage equality.

“Because [the Democrats] are more inclusive, I think it benefitted the president across the state this fall and I think that’s something that Republicans are going to reevaluate,” said Gentile.

Despite Ohio having voted primarily Democratic in this election, Republican governor John Kasich remains in office until 2014. Although Kasich has supported some legislation that would protect the LGBT community, he opposes the legalization of same-sex marriage.

His stance might diminish his chances for re-election, especially if support continues to grow for marriage equality.

“It’s something [Kasich] will have to really consider especially in the coming election when he tries to appeal to all Ohioans. Obviously President Obama’s position on that issue has not had any impact on him, so he will have to carefully consider his views,” said Gentile.

If FreedomOhio successfully collects the 385,253 signatures it needs to put the proposed amendment on the ballot next November, it is likely that Ohio will become one of the next few states to legalize same-sex marriage. Gentile is optimistic that they will be successful.

“As time goes on, people will become more tolerant and start to recognize that this is an issue of equal rights. I think we ought to respect religious institutions and how they view the sacraments, but I don’t think we should deny equal protection and equal rights under the law,” he said. “It’s my hope that Ohioans will become more tolerant on this issue.”

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