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April 5, 2013

New poll puts Ohio marriage support at 54%

Columbus--A new poll commissioned by the Columbus Dispatch shows support for repealing Ohio’s anti-marriage amendment at 54 percent, two percent higher than a Washington Post poll last September.

The new poll, released on March 24, puts support for the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment at 54 percent, with 40 percent opposed and six percent undecided. The telephone survey by Saperstein Associates interviewed 1,003 adults across the state between March 5 and March 10, and the results were weighted to reflect demographics. It had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Signatures are now being gathered to put the new state constitutional amendment on the ballot, possibly this year. The measure would repeal the 2004 amendment barring same-sex marriage and civil union in Ohio, and also specifies that no religious entity would be forced to perform a same-sex marriage against its beliefs.

The religious proviso is viewed as key to garnering support from some who might not be strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, but worry that their church, mosque or synagogue could face legal ramifications for refusing to perform the weddings.

It’s a clever maneuver by organizers, taking the wind out of the sails of opponents who decry the possibility of lawsuits against religious institutions refusing to hold the nuptials.

The argument it counters, however, is false. Cleveland attorney Nancy Marcus notes that it is clever, but constitutionally superfluous, as churches’ religious freedoms are already protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Churches cannot be forced to marry couples whose unions go against their beliefs--a Catholic church cannot be forced to marry a divorced person, nor can a synagogue be forced to marry a Baptist couple.

Ian James, co-founder of Freedom Ohio, the group behind the new amendment, pointed out the timing of the poll.

“It is important to note that the Dispatch poll was conducted prior to Republican Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s announcement that he was switching his position and supporting the freedom to marry,” said James. “We are heartened and affirmed by today’s poll . . . because we have witnessed the seismic shift in public opinion toward marriage equality while working for more than a year to have a conversation with Ohioans and collect signatures in all 88 counties.”

A poll released by the Washington Post last September showed 52 percent of respondents in Ohio saying same-sex marriage should be legal, with 37 opposed and 11 percent undecided.

Similar results were returned in that poll from Florida, with 54 percent in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and in Virginia, support for same-sex marriage was at 49 percent, compared to 40 percent opposed.

Virginia voters supported a marriage ban with 57 percent of the vote in 2006, and two years later, Florida voters supported an anti-marriage amendment at 62 percent.

The Ohio marriage ban amendment was passed in 2004 with 62 percent of the vote.

One concern that still looms is the historical gap between polling on same-sex issues and the actual votes turned in at the ballot. In the past, support for pro-gay measures or opposition to anti-gay ones has consistently polled higher than the results at the ballot box, meaning some issues that seemed likely victories instead became stinging defeats. Theories for that gap abound, including that people don’t want to seem “mean-spirited” to pollsters when asked their opinions.

However, in November’s election, that gap all but disappeared in the four states where marriage was on the ballot. The earlier amendments in 2004 were put on the ballots in 11 states to bring out voters supportive of George W. Bush’s reelection. Last year, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Washington may have seen the reverse, with Obama supporters coming out to support marriage in three of those states and oppose a marriage ban in Minnesota.

Freedom Ohio, the group behind the proposed Ohio constitutional amendment, will continue to gather signatures and decide when they feel the time is right to put it to the voters. Under current state law, petitions are evergreen: groups can continue to gather signatures for as long as they wish before turning them in to elections officials. James has stated that they will continue to talk to people and examine support for the amendment before putting it to a vote.

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