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Government and Politics

Ohio gay rights organizations argue over timing of a marriage amendment
One organization wants it on the ballot by 2014, others are saying to wait

Karen Kasler

A spat over when, not whether, to put an amendment before voters legalizing same-sex marriage in Ohio may be overshadowing the amendment itself. The debate is getting personal and nasty.


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For a time, the big news for several gay rights activists was that a Wednesday meeting in Columbus marked the largest-ever gathering of national marriage equality leaders. Fred Sainz is with the Human Rights Campaign, which has been involved in several same-sex marriage ballot issues that have been approved by voters and has been watching the battleground state of Ohio.

“When that meeting concluded, there were zero decisions that had been reached in terms of when this would be on the ballot,” Sainz says.

A matter of time 
But not long after that meeting, the head of an Ohio-based group that has been gathering signatures to put a same-sex marriage amendment before voters issued a news release, saying it will be on the ballot next year. Ian James says he was speaking only for his group Freedom Ohio.

“No one else is in charge of that campaign," James says. "We want to move forward beyond ’13 and into 2014. And that’s what we said. We also said we were glad to meet with other LGBT leaders around the country to talk about marriage equality.”

There’s been a struggle between James and Freedom Ohio and Ohio’s leading gay rights group, Equality Ohio. James has wanted the amendment on the ballot soon, saying polls show it has support, and has recruited some high-profile Democrats to help. Equality Ohio preferred to wait, noting that voters approved an amendment defining marriage as only between one man and one woman less than 10 years ago – an amendment James was involved in trying to defeat.

It should be noted that 2014 is a big year for statewide and Congressional elections. National groups say they have been careful in picking the right time to approach voters, since these campaigns are expensive and exhausting. So Sainz says they felt betrayed by James’ press release, and felt he was trying to force them into supporting an issue next year.

“What Ian did was not only completely inappropriate, but it was not the way to build a spirit of trust or support or cooperation," Sainz says. "We consider it the very walking definition of unethical behavior.”

James says he was just stating that his campaign will move toward next year’s ballot, with or without the support of national gay-rights groups.

“There’s no strong-arming of groups from Washington, D.C. to being involved in an Ohio campaign," James says. "This is about Ohio. This is about Ohioans and Ohioans are going to address this issue because we’re the ones that don’t have the rights. And frankly, I think it’s unfortunate that anybody would suggest that we just continue to wait until the quintessential 'right time' arrives.”

Divide or outlier? 
But Sainz says this does not mean that the gay rights community is divided – in fact, he says there is unanimity here.

“Every organization is aligned on one side of the issue," Sainz says. "It’s Ian who’s the outlier. He’s clearly out to represent whatever selfish interest that he may have, and that he is not acting in the best interest of gay and lesbian Ohioans.”

James does not have much of a response to the words directed at him personally, but deflects back to the campaign that he says is still looking to the 2014 ballot.

“The reality is we’re going to keep pushing forward," Jmaes says. "We’re going to have a positive conversation. There’s no need for name-calling and we’re just going to keep on moving forward in a positive way to bring about marriage equality for all Ohioans.”

The latest Quinnipiac poll in Ohio on same-sex marriage was in April. It shows Ohioans are leaning toward it 48 percent to 44 percent, but just four months earlier 47 percent were opposed and 45 percent supported it.

Listener Comments:

Ian James and his group are jumping the gun and acting selfishly IMO. Timing IS everything on an issue. Put it on the ballot BEFORE there's multiple polls showing AT LEAST 58-60%, and they run the risk of having the issue shot down and not come up again for another decade! Wait two more years, a measly 24 more months, to 2016 to shore up more support and money to get it passed once and for all.

Posted by: TBC (Wooster) on June 12, 2013 4:06AM
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