Voters will have to decide gay marriage issue

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2004

At just 55 words, the proposition is short but the discussion around it has literally gone on for months and has generated vociferous favor for it and equal opposition against it.

When Ohio voters go to the polls Nov. 2, they will decide the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment that supporters say will preserve the sanctity of marriage, but opponents say will do more harm than good.

What it says

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State Issue 1, reads "Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

Voting "yes" on State Issue 1 presumes the voter believes that marriage is "between one man and one woman" and wants to see the amendment passed. Voting "no" on State Issue 1 means the voter wants to see the amendment defeated.

The case for it

The charge for passage of the amendment is being led by the group Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage. On its Web site, that organization stated that the amendment is intended to protect "God's definition of marriage," that is, the traditional concept of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

According to information on the Ohio Secretary of State's Web site, those in favor of State Issue 1 argue that it would, among other things, establish "the historic definition of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman as husband and wife,"

would "exclude from the definition of marriage homosexual relationships and relationships of three or more persons", would prohibit "judges in Ohio from anti-democratic efforts to redefine marriage."

According to the Web site, the amendment would not "interfere in any way with the individual choices of citizens as to the private relationships they desire to enter and maintain" and "does not interfere in any way with government benefits granted to persons in non-marital homosexual relationships, so long as the government does not grant those benefits to such persons specifically for the reason that the relationship is one that seeks to imitate marriage."

Lining up behind the proposed amendment are a number of churches and other organizations and government leaders of both political parties.

The Rev. Jeff Black, pastor of First Baptist Church of Proctorville, said members of his congregation became familiar with proposed amendment when a petition was circulated earlier this year to put the issue on the ballot. Since then, the issue has generated a lot of discussion, not only at his church but within the entire community. Most of

the people he has met support the proposed amendment.

"It's not a thing where anyone hates homosexuals, that's not it at all," Black said. "The scriptures talk about loving your neighbor. But it's a matter of understanding that the family was established before anything else. This is the big thing for us."

All three Lawrence County Commissioners have lined up to support the constitutional amendment and to support the concept of traditional marriage.

"Marriage is between a man and a woman. Always has been always will be. I think Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike in Ohio will vote strongly for this," Commission President Doug Malone said. "I would be shocked if they didn't."

Commissioner Jason Stephens said he intended to vote "yes" on it. "Absolutely. I think everyone should," he said. His colleague, Commissioner George Patterson was far more emphatic. "I don't think Earl and Stan ought to be married," Patterson said.

Patterson said he knew of some elderly people in nursing homes who were voting by absentee ballot and were confused by the language. he said he wanted voters to understand that a vote "yes" means the voter is in favor of traditional marriage.

The amendment has been described as a "hot-button issue" in Columbus, and became the focus of some debate at a candidates forum Thursday evening in Ironton.

Republican state senate candidate Tom Niehaus said he supported the amendment. "No, I don't think homosexuals have the right to marry," he said. His opponent, Democrat Paul Schweitering said he did not support the frivolous constitutional amendment said he thought State Issue 1 goes too far, and may infringe on the rights of heterosexual unmarried couples as well.

State Representatives Todd Book and Clyde Evans both said they voted for the Defense of Marriage Act passed by the state legislature earlier this year. Their opponents, Richard Holt and Philip Roberts, respectively, said they also support traditional marriage.

Evans said he did not think the idea of gay marriage would be widely supported in his southern Ohio district and he may have a point: "I think it's wrong," Carolyn Akers, of Pedro, said. "The Bible says it's wrong. God didn't make a man and a man or a woman and a woman he made a man and a woman. I think they should outlaw it completely. … God did not put them here like that."

Akers said she had not heard very many people talking about the proposed amendment.

The case against it

Ian James spends a lot of time on the road these days, going from town to town across Ohio, campaigning against State Issue 1. James is the political director for Ohioans Protecting the Constitution, an organization created this past summer specifically to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment.

According to the Secretary of State's Web site, the main arguments against the proposed amendment is that it would "eliminate rights, benefits and protections for all unmarried couples in Ohio,"

that it would punish "seniors living together to protect pension benefits, unmarried couples seeking to jointly own property, people who receive health benefits from domestic partner plans, unmarried women seeking maternity leave and adopted children of unmarried couples."

James pointed to the second sentence in the amendment as being the most troublesome part of the proposed amendment. He said that while supporters may have intended to single out homosexual relationships with this issue, they will ultimately harm non-married heterosexuals

as well, whether or not they meant to do so.

"With a constitutional amendment you can't separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. You can't separate the front end from the back end, you've got to vote yes or no on the whole kit and kaboodle," James said.

Those against it also argue that "leading economic and legal experts agree that Issue 1 would have a negative impact on our struggling economy," according to information on the secretary of state's Web site.

James also contended that the amendment is unnecessary, since the concept of marriage has already been defined in two previous legislative pieces. "There are already two laws on the books that define marriage as being between a man and a woman: the Defense of Marriage Act that was passed by the legislature in February and a sections of Ohio Revised Code that were passed in the 1950s."

A number of political figures and various organizations have voiced opposition for the amendment, among them, Gov. Bob Taft, Attorney General Jim Petro and Ohio's U.S.Senators, George Voinovich and Mike Dewine, the Ohio Democratic Party, League of Women Voters and the Ohio AFL-CIO.

Some people locally have expressed concern about what harm the amendment will inflict as opposed to what good it will do. Sister Regina Monnig of Ironton, a Roman Catholic nun, said she had mixed feelings about the amendment.

"I believe in traditional marriage, but for years I worked with people who had HIV and AIDS in the mid 1980s and 90s and I got to know them. I think what they want is for their partner to be able to make decisions for them when they are sick and dying. If that could happen I would approve it," Monnig said. Monnig said she had not heard too much discussion locally on the issue of "gay marriage."

State Issue 1 is the only state-wide issue on the November ballot.