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March 8, 2013

Equality Ohio joins with HRC, NGLTF for state action

Columbus--Equality Ohio, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign announced on February 25 that they are forming a statewide coalition to push for anti-discrimination legislation, safe schools and equal marriage.

Equality Ohio was formed in 2005 in response to the state’s marriage ban amendment, passed by voters the year before. Since then, they have pushed pro-equality legislation at the state and local level.

“Ohioans share some pretty basic values,” the groups said in a release announcing the alliance. “We believe everyone should be free to live without fear of discrimination at home, at work and in their community. We believe all students should be free to go to school without the threat of harassment or violence. And we believe all loving couples, including same-sex couples, should have the freedom to marry the person they love, including loving, living and marrying right here in the Buckeye State.”

The release points to ballot-box victories for marriage equality last November in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. The NGLTF and HRC were involved with state groups in all of those efforts.

The three groups refer obliquely to Freedom Ohio, formed last year to put a state constitutional amendment before voters to repeal the 2004 ban. The new measure would allow same-sex marriage while exempting religious organizations from having to perform ceremonies or open their facilities to them if they oppose such nuptials.

Freedom Ohio has been working through social media to a great extent and has been gathering signatures for a year, but founder Ian James has said that there is no specific time that they will turn in the signatures to begin the amendment process.

Ohio constitutional amendment petitions are “evergreen,” meaning that the group can continue to collect signatures without them expiring, except through people moving out of the state.

Equality Ohio’s new coalition will first focus on passing the state LGBT Equal Housing and Employment Act and an anti-bullying bill that specifically protects individual groups like LGBT students. Earlier bullying measures had the enumerated groups stripped out, weakening them.

Versions of EHEA, as the equality bill is known, have been introduced in the legislature since 2008. One passed the Ohio House in 2009 but died in the Senate. Twenty-one other states have similar anti-discrimination laws on the books. No federal civil rights law protects LGBT people.

“We are committed to strategic work that has victory as its ultimate goal. Our work in other successful coalitions around the country has taught us important lessons,” the statement reads. “In order for this effort to succeed, we must work in transparent partnership, we must have integrity in our leadership and we must have the resources necessary to win. We must be thoughtful, assemble a large coalition, and undertake the research and polling necessary to craft a winning message.”

In 2012, the national Freedom to Marry organization refused to back Freedom Ohio’s efforts, and Equality Ohio said they would examine going forward on the amendment, but insisted on polling and consultation with constitutional and progressive policy experts. At about the same time, the heads of Freedom Ohio pulled out of a scheduled summit with HRC leaders and Equality Ohio.

“While we believe that many hands make light work, we also know that acting prematurely or without the expertise of other like-minded groups can create dramatic set-backs,” the coalition’s statement continues. “Our coalition’s broad focus and our understanding of the current Ohio and national landscapes have led us collectively to the conclusion that our path is the right one at this moment in time.”

It concludes, “We encourage others who may be interested in achieving similar results in a collaborative manner to lend their resources and expertise to this effort as the coalition grows over the coming months.”

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