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June 19, 2009


Has Lee Fisher changed his position on marriage?

Cleveland--Ohio Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Senate candidate Lee Fisher may have changed his position on marriage equality--or he may not have.

Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, both Democrats, are seeking the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican George Voinovich. The winner of the May 2010 primary will face Republican Rob Portman, a former member of Congress and Bush administration official.

Brunner unequivocally says that same-sex partners should have the right to marry, a belief she held publicly since 1989. Last week, she wrote a Huffington Post article saying that “For LGBT couples, the right to marry is elemental.”

Fisher has been less clear. Three months ago, he said, “I am in favor of civil unions, but I have questions about marriage.”

But last week, his campaign sent out a statement they described as “our statement in support of gay marriage.”

“The government should be focused on creating jobs, lowering health care costs and moving to alternative energy, instead of trying to stop individuals who want to be in a committed relationship and take responsibility for each other,” the statement read.

Fisher has been criticized by LGBT rights advocates since a reporter asked him about his answer to a three-year-old Vote Smart survey at the Cleveland Human Rights Campaign dinner in March.

“Do you believe that the Ohio government should recognize same-sex marriages?” the 2006 survey asked. Fisher answered “No.”

Pressed to clarify at the HRC dinner, the former Ohio attorney general 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.”

Adding to Fisher’s pressure is Brunner’s clarity in support of marriage equality. It is one of the few issues in which there is any difference between the two candidates. Both candidates are generally seen as LGBT-affirming and want the community’s support.

Brunner, a former judge, published the Huffington Post call for marriage equality on June 10.

“It is time to make that right available to all American couples, whether they are heterosexual or same-sex,” Brunner wrote. “This is a family values issue.”

With a fundraiser set for June 14  at the home of a Cleveland-area gay couple, the Fisher campaign gave the statement it said supports “gay marriage” to the Plain Dealer, according to spokesperson Julie Van Eman.

Plain Dealer reporter Mark Naymik noted on his blog June 10 that “[Fisher] did not say so as clearly as Brunner.”

The next day, the Columbus Dispatch also reported that Fisher “supports gay marriage.”

Both dailies quoted Fisher’s HRC dinner comments in the April 10 Gay People’s Chronicle.

However, the statement came from the campaign, not Fisher directly, and seems to imply only that he would not oppose marriage.

This raises questions of whether Fisher’s position has actually changed, why the words “gay marriage” were chosen instead of “marriage equality,” and how strongly Fisher would advocate for marriage if elected.

Ohio’s other U.S. Senator, Sherrod Brown, also a Democrat, was elected in 2006 on a platform supporting marriage equality.

“I am fully and completely in support of [same-sex] civil marriage,” Brown wrote on a Gay People’s Chronicle questionnaire. “In my view, there is no reason why the same legal benefits extended to opposite sex couples should not be extended to loving, committed same-sex couples.”

Fisher’s campaign was asked to make Fisher available to elaborate and clarify the position.

They declined.

Campaign manager Geri Prado said in an e-mail, “Lee is unavailable, but we don’t have anything to add at this time.”

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