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The Suburbanite
  • Ohio gay marriage push gains heft — on both sides

  • For many, the Supreme Court’s recent decisions regarding same-sex marriage were more than court rulings; they were shots over the bow.

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  • For many, the Supreme Court’s recent decisions regarding same-sex marriage were more than court rulings; they were shots over the bow.
    The Rev. Kent Spann from the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values spoke to a gathering of clergy last week at Canton Foursquare Church, urging them to “hold the moral ground” and organize themselves to counter an effort to repeal Ohio’s 2004 constitutional ban on gay marriage.
    That effort is being led by Ian James, for whom marriage equality is about equal rights. The Columbus man is a co-founder of FreedomToMarryOhio, a coalition working to get the issue on the ballot in 2014.
     “We’ve redoubled our efforts because the Supreme Court has indicated this is a state’s right,” he said. “In order for Ohio married couples to have federal rights of marriage, the state must recognize your marriage.”
    James and his spouse, Steven, married in Toronto, Canada, in 2003. They celebrated their 10th anniversary Thursday
    The Christian Science Monitor has listed Ohio as one of 11 “battleground states” for gay marriage. In 2004, Ohioans approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage by 62 percent; but a poll taken in March by the Public Religion Research Institute indicates a majority of Ohioans now approve of gay marriage.   
    But Citizens for Community Values President Phil Burress dismisses the polling, adding that his group will fight any effort to legalize gay marriage in Ohio.
    “On no other issue in America is the polling data is so wrong,” he said. “The real polls are when people go to the polls and vote.”
    Burress led the campaign for the same-sex marriage ban and spearheaded the Defense of Marriage Act, which was struck down last month by the Supreme Court.
    “We’ve put together a network across Ohio that’s pretty effective; where we’re at today cannot be compared to nine years ago,” he said. “We have three people working full-time to build networks in all 99 house districts. We have 17,000 churches in our database, but 10,000 that are Bible-believing churches as we identify them. We’re contacting each and every one of them to make sure voter registration roles are up-to-date. We’re light-years ahead. Them putting the issue on the ballot does not concern us. What they’ll do is guarantee that John Kasich gets re-elected.”
    James said FreedomTo MarryOhio’s amendment would exempt religious groups from having to perform same-sex marriages.
    “That’s critical because faith is so personal and important to people across the state,” he said. “Houses of worship must be provided a respect-and-protection clause that protects religious freedom and respects their freedom.”
    DEMOCRACY OF THE DEAD
    The Rev. Joel Cochran, lead pastor at the Chapel of Marlboro in Marlboro Township, said his objection to gay marriage centers on tradition and truth.
    Page 2 of 4 - “I think that the standard established for the home that we understand to be tradition is the ideal that God has established,” he said. “I also think we don’t do ourselves any favors by ignoring time-tested, proven models that work.”
    Arguing that traditional marriage is also best for children, Cochran said he subscribes to the writer G.K. Chesterton’s philosophy of “the Democracy of the Dead.”
    “It’s the idea that the vast majority of our ancestors tried and experimented with different ideas, and they came up with what works best,” he said. “The traditional concept of one man, one woman is what works best.”
    Cochran said he refuses, however, to demonize those who think differently.
    “I don’t think in any way, shape or form that we ought to mistreat, abuse or ridicule people who disagree,” he said. “... I think the truth is kind, and it needs to be presented kindly.”
    WHAT CHANGED?
    In the years since Ohioans voted for the ban, some polls suggest that a slight majority are now OK with the idea of gay marriage.
    “What’s changed is that it’s more specifically about the amendment, so people are beginning to understand,” James said. “The more we have that conversation with people, about why marriage matters, about family security and really the golden rule of treating people the way you want to be treated ... One person’s marriage has no bearing on another.”
    “I think it’s the rhetoric from the militant homosexual crowd, saying that to disagree with them is cruel, harsh and unfair,” Cochran said. “It makes people think ‘I’m not cruel harsh or unfair.’”
    The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, executive for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns for the United Church of Christ, contends that the shift in some Ohioans’ attitudes toward gay marriage is a result of encountering same-sex couples.
    “The more people know, they began to get it,” he said. “That’s a really key thing. Because of that, people have been making the case this is about people’s ability to have equal protection under the law. It makes for a stronger community when relationships are respected for a whole host of reasons.”
    But Burress said he doesn’t think there’s been a shift. He cited North Carolina, where polls showed an even split on gay marriage, but a vote to legalize it went down to a sizable defeat.
    “Polls are polls,” he said. “You can make them say anything you want. We know that if we get evangelicals out, we win.”
     EQUAL RIGHTS ISSUE?
    Marriage, James argues, isn’t just a religious sacrament, it’s also a civil institution. Under current law, married couples have 1,138 federal benefits and exemptions.
    Page 3 of 4 - A minister’s son, James grew up an Episcopalian. His family later joined the Eastern Orthodox church.
    “If we respect their (churches) freedom, they must also respect freedom of others who are not of their faith, to be able to be married in a civil ceremony,” he said. “We will never impose our belief upon you. You must not impose your belief upon others.”
    Like James, Schuenemeyer views same-sex marriage as a matter of equal rights under the law.“When it comes to human rights,” he said, “Everyone should be allowed to enjoy them.”
    He cited Edith Windsor, who was hit with a six-figure estate tax after her same-sex spouse died in 2009. Had their marriage been recognized, Windsor would have been exempted from paying it.  She took her case to the Supreme Court and won.
    “When we talk about civil marriage, this is the kind of thing we’re talking about,” he said.
    OHIO VALUES
    Schuenemeyer said those who oppose gay marriage have every right to their opinions.
    “But we do have the constitutional principal of equal protection,” he said. “The law ought to be open so that everyone can enjoy the rights and benefits and responsibility of marriage, just as the law should respect religious tradition.”
    In 2005, the United Church of Christ, which is headquartered in Cleveland, passed a resolution supporting marriage equality at its general conference. Some UCC churches broke with the denomination over the resolution, including a few in Stark County.
    Marriage traditionalists contend that it’s a slippery slope.
    “Ask the question, how do you prohibit polygamy?” Burress said. “Or anything? You’ve gotta give them anything they want. When you start using words like ‘equal protection,’ or when you can say there’s discrimination, what are you going to do for bisexuals? They have to have a man and a woman to make them happy.”
    “The constitution in Ohio allows two adults, two human beings to marry,” James said. “If those who wish to make this seem it’s something more —  it’s not. We don’t agree with polygamy. This amendment is developed with Ohio values. It provides for family security.”
    To get a measure on next year’s ballot, FreedomToMarry
    Ohio must collect 385,245 valid signatures. James said he’s “incredibly optimistic” they’ll get them.
    Burress is equally confident that FreedomToMarryOhio will fail.
    “I’m not concerned right now, no matter what comes at us,” he said. “We’re building a network of  pro-life, pro-family people. Any candidate on the wrong side of the issues will not get elected.”
    James argues that marriage is the best way for same-sex couples to protect themselves and families.
    “A stack of papers documents and contracts will never provide full recognition and benefits,” he said.
    Page 4 of 4 - Reach Charita at 330-580-8313
    or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com
    On Twitter: @cgoshayREP