Gay Marriage Law Proposal Causes Some Confusion

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Gay rights advocates throughout Ohio say they want to undo the effects of a 2004 voter passed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

But how and when activists intend to do that appears to be causing confusion.

Mike Premo said he doesn’t like the current Ohio constitutional amendment that prohibits gay marriage and prevents gay marriages performed elsewhere from being recognized here. But Premo, the manager for a campaign called “Why Marriage Matters Ohio” isn’t yet ready to jump on board with plans by another gay rights group to put the issue before voters again this fall.

Premo said his group is focusing on educating Ohioans about reasons why gay marriage should be allowed. And he’s concerned about the language in the proposed ballot issue that would exempt religious institutions. He wonders if it could extend to religious hospitals for instance.

"If a same sex couple that was married and one was injured and they went to a religious based hospital, would that make it difficult for that person’s spouse to make decisions for them," Premo said.

Premo thinks the proposed ballot issue needs more legal scrutiny and he thinks voters might need more time to warm up to the idea of allowing gay marriage in Ohio.

But Ian James, the Executive Director of FreedomOhio, the group that’s circulating petitions to put the ballot issue before voters this fall, said there’s nothing wrong with the language.

"The language is very clear. It’s about religious institutions have the freedom to recognize or perform a marriage," James said. "Hospitals, day care, high schools, schools in general that are affiliated with religious institutions are not religious institutions."

James said his group’s ballot issue is getting traction. He notes the campaign already has 650,000 petition signatures. It only needs a little more than 385,000 valid signatures. And he said polls show 56% of Ohioans support the amendment. And James said it can qualify right now to be on the ballot this fall.

But Premo’s group isn’t sure there are enough supporters who would actually show up at the polls this November. The confusion between the two groups aren’t just over the wording of the proposal or when to put it on the ballot. There’s also confusion over the groups themselves. James is heading a campaign called Freedom to Marry Ohio. But Premo’s group is supported by a national group called Freedom to Marry.

"It has caused a lot of confusion because when we go to tell folks who we are working with and we say freedom to marry which is the national organization, there is confusion between them and the state group," Premo said. "However, James says he doesn’t think there is confusion between the two groups. James says while there is a difference in strategies, there is not a difference in the ultimate goal."

"This isn’t an us and them," James said. "This is us."

One thing is clear. A ballot issue to allow gay marriage appears destined for the Ohio ballot at some point – either this year or in 2016. And when it does go before voters, it will have opposition.

Phil Burress is with the Citizens for Community Values, a group that helped passed the 2004 constitutional amendment that prohibits gay marriage in Ohio. Burress saidmake no mistake….if Ohioans pass a proposal to allow gay marriage in Ohio, churches will find themselves in the middle of a lawsuit, regardless of the language in the plan.

"You can see in the cases that have been submitted to the courts today, just recently, judges are ruling in ways that we never dreamed they would," Burress said. "So once this is over with, there’s no question that they will test their own language by suing some of these churches by saying its unconstitutional, unfair, it’s not equality to allow churches not to perform same sex marriages and they shall be forced to do so."

James said the cases Burress refers to are in states where there is an anti discrimination law in place for gay couples. Ohio doesn’t a law like that on the books.