Opponents of a proposed Ohio state constitutional amendment that would deny legal status to unmarried couples announced on Monday that they're forming a political action committee and will try to raise millions of dollars to buy television ads. Meanwhile, the amendment's supporters still are collecting signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot. The proposal applies to all unmarried couples and would prohibit any legal status "that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage." The two sides disagree on the implications of that phrase, calling each other misleading.
The amendment, if passed, would end the employment benefits that some public universities began offering this month to employees' same-sex partners, said Alan Melamed, director of the campaign to defeat it. He said it also would prevent laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and allow court challenges to legal contracts between people, such as granting the power to make legal decisions if one partner becomes sick or injured. But David Miller, vice president of the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, said the amendment wouldn't affect legally binding contracts. He said it would be up to the courts to determine if the ban would affect the universities' decisions. "If they are marital benefits, they need to be given to married couples, not people who pretend to be married," he said. "If they're not marital benefits, then why don't we just give them to everybody?"
Amendment supporters have until August 4 to collect 322,900 signatures from registered Ohio voters. Collection was delayed by about a month, and the group changed the petition's summary of the amendment because of a court challenge to the original summary, which said the amendment would apply only to same-sex or polygamous unions. The effort got a boost last week when Focus on the Family, a national group,
sent letters and copies of the petition to 80,000 Ohioans on their mailing list, Miller said. Similar mailings have provided the needed signatures to get amendments on the ballot in other states, he said. The group doesn't yet have a count of signatures but just received about 1,000 from a single church in Dayton, Miller said. "There's a lot of activity. We're encouraged."
Ohioans Protecting the Constitution has four staff members and plans to have campaign volunteers ready to begin next week, Melamed said. The campaign has already sought donations from about 60 businesses that offer domestic-partner benefits and supported the failed effort to oppose the state's same-sex marriage ban, a law that took effect in May. While amendment backers have had members set up tables to collect signatures in churches, opponents also plan to seek help from churches that support gay rights, said Ariana Adams, fund-raising coordinator.
In related news, a broad coalition of community, religious, and business leaders, as well as gay advocates, labor unions, legal rights groups, and nonprofit organizations on Tuesday announced the formation of a campaign to fight a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Oregon. "Oregonians have shown an unwillingness to arbitrarily amend the constitution, especially to deny rights to citizens," said Aisling Coghlan of the Equality in Oregon campaign. "We are confident that once we get out our message about this unnecessary and divisive amendment, voters will reject it." The proposed constitutional amendment has not yet been officially certified or assigned a ballot measure number but is expected to be on the November ballot. The exact wording reads: "It is the policy of Oregon and its political subdivisions, that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage." The campaign, which will hold a kick-off in the coming weeks, plans to have offices in Eugene, Ashland, Bend, Corvallis, and Salem.