Photo Caption: James Winnett, left, waits while Leah Watson and Justin Elekes sign a petition to put marriage equality on the ballot. Winnett found many willing signatories in uptown Athens Wednesday.
Ohio voters likely will have an opportunity to vote on a state constitutional amendment for equal marriage rights next November. Athens native and Ohio University graduate Ian James, a co-founder of Freedom to Marry Ohio, said Tuesday the group has met its petition threshold for the ballot.
James, who graduated from Athens High School in 1984 and Ohio University in 1989, said Tuesday that Freedom to Marry is continuing to collect signatures with the goal of getting 1 million Ohioans signed on to support the constitutional amendment.
The amendment itself is only 46 words long, and if passed would become the shortest amendment in the state's history.
It has three central provisions: Allow two consenting adults freedom to enter into marriage regardless of gender; give religious institutions freedom to determine whom to marry; and give religious institutions protection to refuse to perform a marriage.
"That's really the winning combination, allowing people to marry the one they love while also giving houses of worship the legal immunity to refuse to perform or recognize a marriage," he said.
Having worked on constitutional amendments designed to promote equality for the past 30 years, James said, with a variety of different clients, it became important to compose a clear, concise and constitutionally sound amendment.
The amendment also repeals and replaces the one Ohioans passed in 2004 defining marriage as being permissible only between one man and one woman.
James, who lives in Columbus, pointed to a Columbus Dispatch poll from March showing that while the 2004 law passed with 62 percent support, 54 percent of Ohioans now back the new amendment to repeal it, while 40 percent oppose it.
A Public Religion Research Institute poll from September had Ohioans evenly split with 47 percent supporting marriage equality and 47 percent opposing it, and 6 percent not responding to the question.
The same poll showed that while 68 percent of Ohioans support anti-discrimination laws in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation, 84 percent of those polled mistakenly believed this is already the law in Ohio, and 80 percent mistakenly believed this is the law federally. Neither is true.
While the U.S. Congress is currently considering adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its employment anti-discrimination laws, neither Ohio nor the United States at the federal level prohibit such discrimination in the work place.
"The petition is the vehicle to have that important conversation with Ohio voters about why marriage matters," James said. "We're on the streets talking to hundreds of thousands of voters across the state."
Freedom to Marry Ohio is certainly not without its opponents. One freshman state representative, John Becker from Clermont County, has been making a name for himself voicing opposition.
In a recent newsletter, Becker pretended to "be a liberal and argue the case in favor of multiple varieties of creative marriages."
He then compared same-sex marriage, in descending order, to sibling marriage, parent/child marriage, polygamy and inter-species marriage.
"It's all about love," he wrote. "If a human and a member of a different species love each other, then why shouldn't they have the same rights to marry as same species humans? It doesn't affect anybody else's marriage. Besides that, what a farmer does in the privacy of his own barn, with his own cattle, is none of anybody else's business. If you disagree, you're a hate monger and a bigot."
Thus far in America, the political movements for incestuous and inter-species marriage rights have been quiet, if not altogether non-existent.
This past summer, after a meeting of 11 state and national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender organizations, Freedom to Marry Ohio announced its decision to delay the amendment vote until next year.
James said this was done in order to allow a continuing dialogue with Ohio voters. Elyzabeth Holford, executive director of Equality Ohio, suggested to the Columbus Dispatch that there was not a consensus on moving forward with the amendment proposal next year.
"We will move forward when the time is right," she said.
From quotes of those who attended the meeting, the issue revolves around choosing the most advantageous election cycle to bring the amendment to voters.
On Tuesday, James reiterated his intention to bring the matter to voters next year.
"It's not going to be an easy lift," he said. "We still have to have hundreds of thousands of more conversations about why marriage matters. But as we do, we've seen people go from being opponents, to neutral to supportive."
He said that ultimately one person's marriage does not have any impact on anybody else's.
"As my Republican Kentucky grandmother used to say of such things, 'I don't care what they do as long as they don't scare the horses,'" he said.