Gay Rights Groups Spar Over Possible Ballot Issue
A spat over when, not whether, to put before voters an amendment legalizing same-sex marriage in Ohio may be overshadowing the amendment itself. 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.
But not long after that meeting, the head of an Ohio-based group thatâs 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. âNo one else is in charge of that campaign. We want to move forward beyond â13 and into 2014. And thatâs what we said. And thatâs what we said. We also said we were glad to meet with other LGBT leaders around the country to talk about marriage equality.â? Thereâs been a struggle between James and Freedom Ohio and Ohioâs 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 â an amendment James was involved in trying to defeat. 2014 is a big year for statewide and Congressional elections. And national groups say theyâve been careful in picking the right time to approach voters, since these campaigns are expensive and exhausting. So Sainz says they felt betrayed by Jamesâ 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, and we consider it the very walking definition of unethical behavior.
James says he was just stating that his campaign will move toward next yearâs ballot, with or without the support of national gay-rights groups. âThereâs no strong-arming of groups from Washington DC 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 weâre the ones that donât have the rights. And frankly, I think itâs unfortunate that anybody would suggest that we just continue to wait until the quintessential quote-unquote âright timeâ arrives.â? But Sainz says this doesnât mean that the gay rights community is divided â in fact, he says there is unanimity here. âEvery organization is aligned on one side of the issue. Itâs Ian whoâs the outlier. Heâs 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.â? James doesnât 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. âThe reality is weâre going to keep pushing forward, weâre going to have a positive conversation, thereâs no need for name-calling and weâre just going to keep on moving forward in a positive way to bring about marriage equality for all Ohioans," James says. The latest Quinnipiac poll in Ohio on same-sex marriage was in April, and 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.