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April 10, 2009

Democrats’ Senate choice may come down to marriage

Cleveland--Marriage equality is one of the few issues separating two Democrats vying for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by George Voinovich, who will retire in 2010.

Lee Fisher and Jennifer Brunner have declared their candidacies and will square off in next year’s May primary.

Fisher, of Cleveland, is now Ohio lieutenant governor. Brunner, of Columbus, is the secretary of state.

Both have longstanding relationships with the LGBT community and have used their political careers to help advance equality, making it difficult for those who vote on those issues to pick an early favorite.

That may be changing, however, as marriage equality has emerged as the issue separating the Democrats.

Brunner favors it. Fisher doesn’t, but is open to being convinced.

Both attended the Cleveland Human Rights Campaign dinner on March 28, and spoke in interviews about their position on marriage equality.

Brunner unequivocally believes that same-sex partners should have the right to marry. She does not put any qualifications on it, nor attempt any equivocation. It is a belief she has held publicly since 1989.

Fisher said, “I am in favor of civil unions, but I have questions about marriage.”

Inquiry to Fisher arose from his answers to a Project Vote Smart survey, that appears to have been done during the 2006 gubernatorial race.

Fisher wouldn’t verify the date on the published survey. He said that as the lieutenant governor candidate that year, almost everything went through the Strickland campaign and he doesn’t recall completing it.

However, Fisher said the questions and answers on the survey, regardless of when they were written, are accurate.

Two of them are on LGBT equality.

The first asks: Do you believe that the Ohio government should include sexual orientation in Ohio’s anti-discrimination laws? Fisher answered “Yes.”

Brunner also shares this belief.

The second question asks: Do you believe that the Ohio government should recognize same-sex marriages? Fisher answered “No.”

Pressed to clarify, Fisher said he is “not closing the door” to marriage equality, and that he expects to have discussions with HRC about it during the course of the Senate campaign.

“I don’t know whether civil unions will be sufficient or not,” Fisher said, “and those discussions will help me to understand.”

The winner between Brunner and Fisher will likely face Republican Rob Portman, a former U.S. House member from Cincinnati and George W. Bush’s trade representative.

Former Ohio secretary of state and noted anti-gay activist Ken Blackwell has endorsed Portman.

Republican state auditor Mary Taylor of Akron is also considering a run for the Senate seat.

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