As the U.S. Supreme Court shines the spotlight on same-sex
marriage this week, backers of an effort to put the question directly to Ohio
voters say they're taking advantage of the attention to gather the hundreds of
thousands of signatures needed.
Opponents of same-sex marriage, however, say they're equally energized, fully expecting the proposed constitutional amendment to reach the Ohio ballot.
"We will have the number of signatures necessary to qualify," said Ian James of Freedom to Marry Ohio. "We have literally gone, pre-Portman, from getting 20 people coming on to volunteer per day to getting 35 per day and then over the weekend to 45-plus. The momentum is building with the Supreme Court, Portman, Hillary, polling. There's a surge in energy. It's literally like Obama 2007."
Backers of the amendment are pushing for the Nov. 5 general election, an off-year election in which no state or federal offices will be on the ballot and one in which voter turnout would normally be expected to be lower.
Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, said his defenders of the existing constitution definition of traditional marriage have been preparing for a campaign since petitions hit the streets and that the momentum is on their side with all the national attention focused on the issue.
"The recent statement by Portman exploded support to defend the marriage amendment," he said. "There are two different debates going on, one by the press and the other by homosexual activists ... You only need to look at the polls where people actually vote, the 31 states where people have voted that marriage is of one man and one woman.
"Only three states have voted for same-sex marriage, and that happened last November," Mr. Burress said. "They spent $42.2 million and barely won those three states. The talk of momentum only comes from the press."
The petitions have been in the field nearly a year. The proposed amendment would strike the paragraph that voters added to the Ohio Constitution in 2004 that declares the state and its local governments will recognize only a marriage of a man and a woman or any other union "that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage."
The amendment would substitute new language describing marriage as "a union of two consenting adults not nearer of kin than second cousins, and not having a husband or wife living." It adds, "... no religious institution shall be required to perform or recognize a marriage."
Freshman U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnati Republican, recently broke with his fellow GOP senators and his party to publicly support gay marriage after he learned one of his sons is gay.
Gov. John Kasich, however, then muddied the waters when he briefly expressed support for "civil unions" in a TV interview last week, only to have a spokesman retract the statement hours later.
Ohio's constitutional ban also includes a provision, applying to both same sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples, that prohibits legal recognition of any relationship that carries the same rights of married couples.
If Ohio voters have a chance to vote on the same-sex marriage amendment in November, they will already know the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of California's voter-approved Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, both of which recognize marriage only as one between a man and a woman.
And they'll know whether the court has shifted the controversial issue to states, placing that much more emphasis on what Ohioans do at the ballot box.
The 2004 amendment locking in traditional marriage passed with nearly 62 percent of the vote, although polls since have suggested a shift in public position since then.
Supporters of the same-sex marriage amendment have until July 3 to file at least 385,245 valid signatures with the Ohio secretary of state. The group has declined to say how many names have been collected so far, but Mr. James expressed confidence that it will have more than enough signatures.
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