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March 23. 2012

Ohio marriage petition drive moves forward

Amendment will be resubmitted after first version was rejected

Columbus--The leader of a group hoping to amend Ohio’s constitution to include same-sex marriage is undaunted by Attorney General Mike DeWine’s rejection of the initial language, and says another attempt will be made.

Freedom to Marry Ohio collected 1,764 signatures and submitted ballot language and a summary to DeWine on March 1. This is the first step to amending the state constitution.

Meanwhile, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality Ohio is still being cautious about joining the effort.

DeWine found more than the minimum 1,000 signatures to be valid, but he had problems with the text.

In a letter, he told petitioners that the summary they submitted was not “a fair and truthful statement of the proposed constitutional amendment for three reasons.”

The proposed amendment reads: “Be it resolved by the people of the State of Ohio that Article XV, Section 11 of the Ohio Constitution be adopted and read as follows: § 11. In the State of Ohio and its political subdivisions, marriage shall be a union of two consenting adults and no religious institution shall be required to perform or recognize a marriage.”

A five-part summary was included with the amendment.

“First,” wrote DeWine, “the summary is longer than the text of the amendment.” He explained that this does not meet a constitutional requirement defined by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Second, DeWine took issue with a summary statement that the proposed amendment allows “political subdivisions to not recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals.”

“The text of the amendment does not indicate that political subdivisions would retain these rights,” he wrote.

“Third,” DeWine concluded, “the summary states that the amendment retains ‘the portions of Title 31 that codifies this Amendment.’ However, the text of the amendment does not contain any reference to Title 31.”

Title 31 of the Ohio Revised Code covers marriage, domestic relations and children.

The amendment’s backer, Ian James of Columbus, says he expected DeWine’s rejection and he’s going forward with a new version.

“[W]e expected the AG rejection and drafted a revised summary petition,” James wrote in a March 10 e‑mail. “The issue of brevity, Title 31 and the individual recognition have been addressed. The petition process continues and we anticipate filing the new summary petition next week.”

At press time March 20, the new language had not yet been filed and James had not shared what the new proposal will be.

Asked if the broader LGBT community has been consulted or surveyed as to what the new language should be, James responded, “Yes. And the Coalition and Committee continue to build a strong winning team effort.”

However, James did not respond to a follow-up question on who he had spoken to.

He also remains silent on an earlier query about any financial connection to the campaign.

James was asked in a March 6 e‑mail, “Will your company, the Strategy Network, or any company you may affiliate with professionally, have a stake in this campaign, should it go forward?” He did not answer.

James is the chief executive officer of the Strategy Network, a campaign consulting firm. According to its website, the firm’s specialties include ballot planning and management, voter identification and persuasion, petition and ballot placement, door to door canvassing and web based communications.

He is also the CEO of Professional Petition Management, LLC, which is a signature-gathering firm.

In order to make the ballot, Freedom to Marry Ohio will need to submit 385,253 valid signatures from all around Ohio.

Freedom to Marry Ohio lists its address as 1349 East Broad Street in Columbus, which is also the address of the Strategy Network and Professional Petition Management.

Firms who consult for campaigns get paid whether the end result is favorable or not.

Equality Ohio is still cautious

Equality Ohio is still not endorsing the effort and issued a second statement pointing to “reasonable questions” about the language as one of the reasons.

Equality Ohio director Ed Mullen said the organization has “engaged in the due diligence and deliberation on the marriage amendment” and the research has shown three significant findings.

Mullen wrote: “There are three clear takeaways from this research:

“1. There is a lot of excitement in Ohio for an effort to achieve marriage equality;

“2. There are reasonable questions about the current language, process and timing that will need to be resolved before many of the community members we have spoken to will support this effort; and

“3. The effort to achieve marriage equality in Ohio will be a difficult one that will require significant resources, particularly financial resources.”

The organization’s caution comes from the response to a presentation made by James at Equality Ohio’s Leadership Summit on March 3.

About a month earlier, James had created a Facebook page to cajole Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman into joining a national list of mayors that support marriage equality.

The social media effort was successful, and as it grew, James decided to launch an effort to amend Ohio’s constitution.

However, James did not get consensus on the language to be proposed, or find out if there is support for a campaign that could cost $10 million and tens of thousands of volunteer hours.

Jacob McClain of Ask Cleveland noted at the Leadership Summit that James had not been in touch with organizations expert in LGBT ballot initiatives or sought counsel from a campaign in Maine that also seeks to overturn that state’s marriage ban by initiative this year.

“We have stirred it up a bit,” James responded. “This is what democracy looks like.”

“And at the end of March we’ll birth a petition,” he said.

Related stories

Equality Ohio cautious on marriage measure  March 9, 2012

Petitions would bring marriage to Ohio  February 24, 2012

The lessons of Issue 1: Ohio needs better statewide preparation for the next ballot issue, leaders say  January 14, 2005

‘No on 1’ group won’t be fined for credit card account mixup  December 24, 2004

Anti-Issue 1 group reports money problems to state  December 17, 2004

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