Ian James: Personal Passion for Marriage Equality

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It is not often that a political strategist gets to work with people or causes close to his heart.

But, that’s the case with former Athenian Ian James.

Daily, he champions a cause that he is passionate about – marriage equality in Ohio.

Ian is both a political consultant and a gay rights advocate – so it seems only natural that he is the co-founder of Freedom to Marry Ohio. The group is working diligently to get the issue of marriage equality back on Ohio’s ballot in November 2014 along with a provision to allow any religious group who opposes same-sex marriage to opt out of performing such ceremonies.

The proposed constitutional amendment allows the freedom for all consenting adults, regardless of gender, to marry and combines that right with the religious freedom for religious officials not to officiate at such ceremonies. If passed, the amendment would eliminate Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage that was added to the Ohio Constitution in 2004.

This cause is the perfect union between James’ personal views and his political expertise through his consulting company Strategy Network. Ohio Magazine once touted James as one of Ohio’s “brightest political strategists.” But, the road to this point in James’ life has not always been smooth.

The 1984 graduate of Athens High School received his political science degree from Ohio University in 1989. He immediately jumped into politics with both feet – going to work for the Democratic Caucus and as the personal assistant for Democrat Anthony Celebrezze in his 1990 gubernatorial bid.

From 1992-94, James was a staffer for the powerful Democratic Speaker of the Ohio House Vern Riffe and then James went to work for Merv Griffin Enterprises as an Executive Communications and Governmental Relations Director.

During this early period of his political and professional life, James felt his life was spinning out of control. To the outside world, he seemed to have it all. He was a top political and communications operative and his career was on the rise. He was engaged to be married to a young woman in Columbus and he seemed to be following a traditional path.

However, he was being eaten up inside. He was trying to live a life that didn’t fit him. In reality, he was living a lie and he was paying the price. Off the job, he was engaging in destructive behaviors and drinking way too much. He felt he had to do something to break his life’s downward spiral.

According to James, he knew he was gay since he was six years-old. “But, I did everything I possibly could to deny it and hide it,” he said. “I thought, if people knew, it would be the death knell for my political future. I feared both political and personal ramifications.”

But, one morning, at age 27, he woke up and looked at himself in the mirror and realized it was too “gut wrenching” to go on living in fear and living a lie. That very day, James took two giant steps forward. He quit drinking alcohol and he “came out” to his friends, his family, and his co-workers – all on the same day.

Not everyone reacted positively but James found overall acceptance at his job and with the majority of his family. Even his grandmother, on her death bed, gave him her blessing and told him that she just wanted him to have a happy life.

James took that advice to heart. Since his “coming out day,” he has never looked back.

He started his own political consulting firm in 1996 and also joined with his long-time personal and business partner, Stephen Letourneau-James in 1999. The couple traveled to Toronto, Canada in July of 2003 and on July 4th got officially married.

They will be celebrating their 10th anniversary this July 4th.

“Some people expected when I came out that I would be living some flamboyant life-style,” James said.

“But, instead, my life settled down. I became physically and emotionally healthier. I met the love of my life and we have been together ever since. We are literally just another ‘boring’ married couple,” James said. “Our friends are constantly commenting how boring we are.”

Even though officially married in Canada, James says his marriage is still not recognized in Ohio. There is no “full faith and credit” to our marriage. “Our friends and family recognize our marriage but the state does not.” James added.

“We have had to spend over $8,500 to get the legal paperwork together in Ohio to protect our business, our property and to allow each of us to be there for the other in times of illness or disability,” James said. “If our marriage were recognized by the state, we wouldn’t have had to go through all of that.”

“Even after spending all the time and money to obtain our rights, we still don’t have the same rights that a straight man and a woman would have if they spent $45 for a marriage license in Ohio and had a legal ceremony performed,” James added.

James thinks the time is right for Ohio to reconsider marriage equality. “We’ve seen a seismic shift over the past few years in Ohio in favor of same sex marriages,” James said in an audio interview with WOUB.

He notes that a recent poll found 54 percent of Ohioans are in favor of same sex marriages and support the amendment.

James says that over the next 17 months he will begin raising the financial resources to fight the battle. And he will be having thousands of conversations about why marriage matters and that it is really about “family security and civil rights.”

He knows it will cost millions of dollars to win this battle but he also claims that having the ban in place in Ohio is hurting Ohio’s economy. “The ban hurts Ohio. It keeps talented people from wanting to come here to work and each year we lose talented workers to other states who recognize marriage,” James noted.

Overall James is optimistic about Ohioans adopting his goal for marriage equality. He is especially buoyed by the reaction he always gets in his home county of Athens. He reminds everyone who will listen that Athens Co. was the only county in Ohio to vote against the same-sex marriage ban in 2004.

“Athens is where I go to find all that is right,” James mused.