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Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality in Ohio

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May 19, 2014

Ohio-Gay-Marriage-3-480x480Marriage equality seems to be expanding every month, with states like Michigan and Arkansas having court cases and lawsuits against the state. The issue of marriage equality has been dividing several state-wide LGBT organizations in Ohio. While some groups believe that Ohio is ready for marriage equality to be put on the ballots, others argue that not enough of Ohio’s voters would vote in favor in favor of the ballot measure. While 17 other states have made it a reality, the question must be asked: Is Ohio ready for marriage equality?

A ban on marriage equality was first voted on in Ohio in 2004, passing with 62% of the voters in favor of instituting the constitutional ban. As recent as April, a federal judge has ruled the ban on recognizing marriages completed outside of the state as unconstitutional. This decision was one of many changes being spurred by lawsuits filed by same sex couples living in Ohio in order to overturn the Ohio constitutional ban on marriage equality. While this ruling does not require the state to perform the marriages yet, many LGBTQ organizations have celebrated this towards s step in the right direction for full recognition for out-of-state marriages. 

Approval rates have made huge strides in favor of marriage equality in Ohio, just tipping over 50% in 2014.  However, several organizations are still torn as to whether it should be on the ballot for the November elections. According to a press release by Freedom To Marry Ohio (not affiliated with the national Freedom to Marry organization), a poll paid for by the organization from January indicates that approval rates are increasing. According to the poll, 59% of Ohioans support marriage equality and 36% were against it. This has been consistent across other polls conducted in Ohio.

While Freedom to Marry Ohio has been working towards putting the issue on the ballot, other organizations have been opposed to the ballot option. According to the Freedom to Marry Ohio, they are working towards collecting the 386,000 valid signatures needed. In contrast, Why Marriage Matters Ohio, a new coalition, believes that it’s “about having conversations and sharing stories, showing that same-sex couples and their families should be welcomed and treated fairly in Ohio. It is about opening hearts and minds throughout our state,” according to their website. There is no mention of a petition to be put on the ballot for November 2014 on any part of their website, but solely “pledges” to support marriage equality and to call legislators for support of marriage equality.

A press release posted by Freedom to Marry Ohio from February 2014 called the leadership of Equality Ohio “out-of-touch” due to their opposition of the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment. Another press release by Freedom to Marry Ohio discussed an incident where they were expected to shelve their petitions in order to join a coalition back in September 2013 called Ohioans United for Marriage. According to another press release by Equality Ohio, the organization is not working towards marriage equality through the ballot efforts due to “about the language, process and timing.” While Freedom to Marry Ohio continues to collect petition signatures for the ballot, Equality Ohio will be working towards a “public and collaborative strategic planning process,” an educational campaign and an examination of the bill’s proposed language, specifically, when it comes down to the religious rights of houses of worship performing the ceremonies.

Despite the disputes, community members have continued the fight for marriage equality in Ohio. Two local activists and partners, Amy Holland and Gwen Andrix, have been leading the fight in Wood County and Bowling Green to put marriage equality on the ballot. Amy and Gwen are leaders in the community, working with Freedom to Marry Ohio to engage voters and put the issue on the ballot. Gwen, Amy and the volunteers helping them and Freedom to Marry Ohio have collected 4,500 signatures from Wood County alone. This work could not be done alone, and was completed with the help of community members from Bowling Green State University, Owens Community College, and from surrounding towns, such as Fremont, to help engage and collect signatures from voters. Gwen

Gwen cites her experiences coming out seven years ago as a transgender woman as motivation for her to work on the marriage equality ballot issue. Trans communities specifically have been hit hard by the lack of protections in the state, and may or may not be issued a marriage license, depending on where they request the marriage license. “It depends on passing and physical markers in the courthouse where they file,” she mentions. Her activism for marriage equality hits home, as she mentions, “transgender voices are often left out in the conversation when it comes to the marriage issue, and they are at the most risk for being silenced within the community.”

When it comes to actually collecting the petitions, Gwen mentions that having the conversations is an essential part of creating an environment where marriage equality will become a reality, and she says that “people start on the fence and then by the end of the conversation, they have signed the petition.” These conversations, says Gwen, are the way to continue to boost approval ratings for marriage equality in Ohio, therefore if the issue is put on the ballot in the future, it will be voted in by Ohioans.

Gwen asserts that the next step will be engaging young voters in Ohio in order for them to turn out to the polls. This work, she says, will help lay the groundwork for more progressive causes outside of marriage quality in Ohio, including employment and housing discrimination for LGBTQ communities. This work has contributed to the increasing approval rates for marriage equality by Ohioans, and has helped create the conversation, regardless of the perceived readiness of voters. These issues are the ones that are increasingly more important for Ohioans, whose voices will not be silenced at the polls.

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