Gay marriage supporters say they have enough signatures to put the issue on the statewide ballot next year.
The backers must collect at least 385-thousand valid petition signatures to ask voters in November to reverse the same-sex marriage ban approved in 2004. The group is touting a poll that shows a majority of Ohioans support reversing the ban if churches are not forced to perform same-sex unions. Critics question the accuracy of that poll. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.
When Ian James of Freedom to Marry commissioned a recent poll, he had pollsters ask specific questions about the amendment his group wants to put on the ballot. And he says the numbers in this poll show a majority of Ohioans are ready to pass the amendment his group is backing.
James – These are not insignificant. These are what victories are made of.
James says, in this study, pollsters read the proposed language of the amendment, including the part that includes reference to religious freedom. He says once that part of the language was read, voter support for the amendment was at 56 percent while opposition was at 34 percent.
James – Religious freedom is incredibly important. People of faith want to make sure they have the right to say no but they also want to give loving couples the right to marry at the Courthouse.
James says his group has already collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot but wants to continue to collect more. He wants to get a million signatures before the July 2nd deadline for turning in petitions. And he thinks the momentum at this point shows it can happen.
James – What makes Ohio different than other states is that we actually have a higher percentage of support and a lower percent of opposition than the three states that were on the ballot in 2012 and won. Those states ended up winning 52 to 48 but at this time or even later, closer to the election, they were lower than we are right now. So 11 months out, 56 to 34, we are in a prime position to continue to build our support but to win.
But another group that supports the goal of overturning the gay marriage ban in Ohio is not so sure at this point. Mike Premo with Equality Ohio says his group’s campaign called Why Marriage Matters, is focused on educating Ohioans about the gay marriage issue right now. Premo says it’s important that when this issue passes when it goes on the ballot. And he says there’s not a consensus, at this point, that next year is the right time.
Premo – Why Marriage Matters Ohio is actually working with leaders in the national and state LGBT community and our allies to people who have experience winning marriage equality in other states and those who are experienced on the ground in Ohio in issue advocacy to come up with a consensus opinion on how to proceed.
Premo is not really impressed with the fact that support grows and opposition falls off when the religious freedom piece of the issue is explained to those taking the poll.
Premo – Usually having some kind of religious exemption language in the legislation or ballot initiatives has made it more palatable for folks in the past so that’s pretty standard practice.
On the other side of the issue completely is Phil Burress of the Citizens for Community Values, a group that wants to keep the 2004 voter passed gay marriage ban on the books. He says the language on religious freedom isn’t going to protect churches.
Burress – Well the actual language says no religious institution shall be required to perform or recognize a marriage. It doesn’t say that the church has the right to deny a same sex couple from using the church and having someone else perform the marriage. And that’s going to leave it wide open to lawsuits against churches.
Burress says he thinks this amendment could ultimately be harmful to Ohio’s children.
Burress – Do you realize that if same sex marriage is legalized as it was in Massachusetts that they are going to start telling grade children as low as the first grade that same sex marriage is legal and is now permissible? And that was a big problem in Massachusetts because they want to say that this is just between two consenting adults when in reality it impacts children as well as the rest of society.
But gay marriage backers say the current ban impacts children in a more negative way. They note many gay couples have already legally adopted children but because of Ohio’s ban on gay marriage, only one of the adults can be legally considered a parent for those kids.
The debate over when to put the gay marriage issue before voters is likely to continue in the coming months. And it will likely keep political pollsters and pundits busy as they try to figure out, not if, but when, the issue should be put on the statewide ballot.