Battle over Ohio's gay marriage ban heats up

Backers and opponents of an anti-gay marriage amendment in Ohio have said they are beginning to raise money and prepare advertising campaigns to battle over the issue slated for the November 2 ballot. Proponents of the proposed constitutional amendment say they'll undertake the campaign despite polls showing the measure will pass handily. Opponents predict they'll need--and will be able to raise--between $1.5
million and $2 million. Both sides have been fighting over whether the amendment would even come
before voters because of irregularities in the way petitions were circulated. But opponents said Thursday their legal challenges are essentially over and they expect the Secretary of State's Office to approve petitions to place it on the ballot.

In addition to banning gay marriage, the proposal seeks to ban civil unions and withhold the legal privileges of marriage from any unmarried couple. "This is a big campaign and I'm sure both sides will be pulling out all the stops and raising as much money as possible," said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Focus on the Family, a nonprofit conservative Christian group. The organization is supporting the amendment through its radio program, distributed to Christian radio stations throughout Ohio, but does not have a campaign role, Minnery said Thursday.

Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values expects to work with churches to distribute yard signs and undertake a media campaign involving radio and newspaper ads as well as TV ads if slots are available, said Phil Burress, the group's president. He said the amount of money needed for that campaign hadn't been determined. He said it had been difficult to raise money while legal challenges were pending over the amendment's future but didn't expect problems now that it appeared likely to go before voters.

Recent statewide polls conducted by the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research, The Columbus Dispatch, and The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer found a majority of voters would approve the amendment. "We will win this even if we do not run a campaign," Burress said. "But we will run a campaign because this is not the end of it. We know it's going to go on in other states, know it could come back in Ohio, know it could be challenged."

Ohioans Protecting the Constitution, which opposes the measure, expects to have enough money to run a full TV and radio campaign, campaign chairman Alan Melamed said. Melamed and other opponents say support for the amendment drops once people learn it goes beyond a definition of marriage, which Ohio law already limits to one man and one woman. They argue the proposed amendment would affect all legal contracts between unmarried people and could interfere with a variety of benefits, such as
maternity leave for unmarried parents. Columbus mayor Michael Coleman, who opposes gay marriage, said the amendment eliminates basic legal rights for unmarried people. "In the guise of protecting marriage, the far right is working to pass an extremist law that is badly written, badly thought out, and badly intended," he said.

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