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January 25, 2013

Marriage initiative is headed for goal

Founder says group will have enough signatures by July

Columbus--With four ballot-box victories for same-sex marriage supporters in the November 2012 general election, the momentum for Ohio’s Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment is growing.

Ian James, the founder of the measure’s backer Freedom Ohio, said that the signature-gathering effort to put the amendment on the ballot is poised to reach its goal in more than the 44 Ohio counties from which they must gather 385,245 signatures.

To put the amendment on the November ballot, that threshold must be met. The count is five percent of the turnout for the most recent gubernatorial election.

“At this point, we are positioned to qualify in 50 counties,” James said. “The filing deadline for November is July 3.”

He said that the organization will spend the first half of the year hitting the petition drive hard, gathering as many signatures and identifying as many supporters as possible.

However, even with the needed number of signatures, it is not a foregone conclusion that the issue will be put on the November 2013 ballot.

“There is no reason not to look at 2013, but ultimately the decision on filing will be made by the executive committee based on their read of the polling and the availability of resources for identification and mobilization,” James noted. “The petitions don’t have any shelf life. You can essentially collect on these petitions for as long as you would like.”

The proposed state constitutional amendment reads, “In the State of Ohio and its political subdivisions, marriage shall be a union of two consenting adults not nearer of kin than second cousins, and not having a husband or wife living, and no religious institution shall be required to perform or recognize a marriage.”

It is intended to void an amendment that bans same-sex marriage, passed by voters in 2004, as well as an earlier state law that does the same.

“When we started planning this campaign in 2011, our critics said the timing was not right,” wrote Freedom Ohio executive committee co-chair Ben Deutschle in a January 16 email to supporters. “Since then, President Barack Obama, the NAACP, the Democratic National Committee, and a slew of national leaders, celebrities and sports figures have endorsed Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom. In Ohio, we have a growing list of individuals, businesses, labor, faith and veteran organizations that have endorsed our amendment.”

He also pointed to a Washington Post poll last September that found marriage support at 52 percent in Ohio, compared to 37 percent opposed.

Deutschle’s letter illustrated one of the strengths of Freedom Ohio, according to James. Deutschle is a “straight ally, married, three kids. A wonderful human being,” he said, and the formulation of the amendment can bring support from other heterosexuals, even those who are not necessarily considered allies of the LGBT community.

“If you’re a Republican and you’re looking at this issue and you see it affects job creation and job retention . . . you can protest religious institutions by not having to recognize or perform marriages and lastly you can actually reverse a constitutional amendment that essentially prohibits religious institutions from making up their minds on marriage,” he noted.

James pointed to an economic impact study that indicates over 1,100 jobs would be created in the first three years of legalized same-sex marriage in Ohio, along with total earnings of over $30 million, operating on the assumption that just under 10,000 couples would marry in those three years.

“I think there’s a way you can get them to say, we’re not for gay marriage, but we’re for religious freedom and letting people decide these things for themselves,” he said, pointing to Republican politicians who opposed the anti-marriage amendment in 2004. He also noted that a number of politicians might be concerned about their legacies, how the history books remember them.

“There’s a value-added proposition here for Republicans. The more conversations we have with Republicans, the better off we will be,” he concluded.

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