Cincinnati--In the fight for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, Gary Wright believes freedom of religion can be a powerful tool.
Wright, who took a leave from his job at Procter and Gamble to help coordinate Citizens to Restore Fairness’ successful bid to repeal the anti-gay Article 12 of the Cincinnati city charter last year, has been influential in merging CRF, Stonewall Cincinnati and One Human Family into the new Equality Cincinnati.
He has now left Procter and Gamble to work full-time on LGBT equality.
Wright is proposing a new Ohio constitutional amendment to protect religious marriage while allowing same-sex couples to marry. He is not actively pursuing the amendment yet, saying that there are higher priorities in the equal rights fight.
Called the “Ohio Religious Marriage Protection Amendment,” it would add clauses to the Ohio Constitution’s Bill of Rights defining civil marriage and separating it from religious marriage, while ensuring that clergy cannot be forced to perform weddings against their religious beliefs.
The measure would trump Ohio’s new constitutional amendment, passed last November as Issue 1, which bans same-sex marriage and state recognition of domestic partnerships. Wright says the religious protections may attract the support of some of the people who backed Issue 1.
“The right of the people to enter into marriage as defined by their religion or conscience shall not be abridged by the state of Ohio,” it reads. “The state shall not compel any minister of any faith to perform a marriage against his or her beliefs, nor shall any religion be required to recognize marriages performed by ministers of any other faith.”
It continues, “For the purposes of the laws of the state, ‘marriage’ shall mean civil marriage between any two persons 16 years of age or older, who are not married to anyone else, and who are not closely related by blood or marriage. Civil marriage shall not be construed as infringing on the free practice of religion as defined above.”
“One of the concerns that some opponents of gay marriage have raised is that ministers of their faiths would be forced to perform weddings of same sex couples,” Wright said. “This would explicitly guarantee that they would be free to practice marriage as they see fit--just as the Catholic church today restricts marriage to people who have not been divorced.”
“We may nor may not agree with the Catholic church’s views, but the law protects them,” he continued. “Those of us who believe that gay couples should be entitled to marriage deserve the same respect in law. Our and their beliefs, derived from religion, must be equal before the law.”
The law must also be separate from religion, Wright added.
“We do allow civil marriages among divorced people. We do not deny anyone the civil benefits of marriage because of restrictions that particular religions impose,” he noted. “Civil marriage must be broader than religious marriage. Now that the United Church of Christ has endorsed same-sex marriage, and more faiths will surely follow, the state will have less and less justification in promoting only the most restrictive religion’s definition of marriage as the law of the land.”
The amendment would follow the section of the Ohio Bill of Rights on “Rights of conscience; education; the necessity of religion and knowledge,” which states, “No preference shall be given, by law, to any religious society; nor shall any interference with the rights of conscience be permitted.”
Civil rights are a priority
The amendment is not Wright’s first priority, however. He believes that Equality Cincinnati first needs to work for the passage of civil rights protections for LGBT people in the area before any more ambitious undertakings.
“We have a lot to do in the Cincinnati area to pass GLBT-inclusive city ordinances and hate crimes legislation,” he noted. “We need to continue to educate people about the realities of gay lives. That work comes first.”
“We will be taking stock of the situation in cities and towns in our part of the state as we pull Equality Cincinnati together,” Wright said. “Our first board meeting is July 18, so we are just getting started. I think we will see some changes starting next year.”
With the defeat of Article 12, Wright believes that the divisions arising over arguments on methods to remove it will be overcome. Arguments over the boycott of Cincinnati and how actively to seek the removal of Article 12, for instance, were behind repeated changes in the board of Stonewall Cincinnati and led to the formation of both CRF and One Human Family.
“We are merging these groups back together,” Wright stated emphatically. “The community is ready to move on.”
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