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Straight, and Our Best Allies

Straight, and Our Best Allies


Tony Marconi supported gay rights long before his ex-wife came out as a lesbian...and long before he ran for Ohio State representative. But Bush's 2004 win, plus that year's constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage in Ohio, made Marconi and his wife, Martha Filipic, LGBT rights advocates for life.

They met on the campaign trail in 1998.

Tony Marconi was running for Ohio State representative for the second house district, which includes all of the Buckeye State's Delaware County. Martha Filipic, a journalist by training, was a prospective voter. Things between them just clicked. Wedding bells came in 2000.

Tony had been married before. After 19 years his ex-wife came out as a lesbian. They'd had two kids together. "I felt a sense of relief and a sense of joy for her," he said as a way of explaining how he and Martha have become two of the staunchest straight allies the LGBT community could ask for.

"I'd been very pro on these issues prior to her coming-out," said Marconi. "It was just a matter of right and wrong. LGBT rights is the last great civil rights issue facing us."

When Marconi ran for office, he knew it was an extremely uphill battle, so he took the opportunity to speak out on LGBT issues as part of his platform. He didn't win. But he did change the way local Democrats viewed the issues. "Someone had to stand up. Now the Democrats acknowledge LGBT issues."

So much so that at Equality Ohio's Lobby Day for Equality this year, Democratic governor Ted Strickland's public liaison was met with thunderous applause when he told the crowd that the governor would be signing an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT people in state government.

However, Ohio's 2004 constitutional amendment, which not only banned same-sex marriage but also legal relationships that "approximate" marriage (like domestic partnerships), "made us the most repressive state," said Marconi, who is on Equality Ohio's board of directors. After living through that year's exhausting election cycle -- the Bush reelection and the passage of the amendment -- they decided that LGBT issues would be the main focus of their political work. "Knowing who we knew -- all the gays and lesbians in our lives -- this would be what we would put our energy toward."

Their main focus is the Delaware Gay Straight Christian Alliance.

Filipic, who is the alliance's chair, explained that the group started in 2001 when a local schoolteacher, Scott Yant, had a student who got in trouble for beating up a gay classmate. "The student said he had every right do so because he was a Christian."

Very troubled by what he heard, Yant met with a local pastor, Warren Campbell-Gaston. "They agreed that Christians can't sit aside when something like this happens," said Filipic.

People from various area churches began to come together to study and support one another. "In 2002 they decided to have a worship service where gays and straights could worship together. Tony and I went. It was very powerful. We've been involved ever since," she said.

The alliance's mission is clearly stated on its website: "We follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, who fought for justice and never condemned a person for the way they were born. We pray for the day when we can live in a society that does not discriminate against its citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation."

Looking back at the constitutional amendment, Marconi said its passage galvanized LGBT people, and the alliance became even more of a focal point for local Christians who believed in fairness.

In September 2005 the alliance began staffing a booth at the Delaware County Fair. "Ninety-nine percent of the folks who come up are positive," said Marconi. "Kids of all ages are very supportive of what we're doing. A lot of adults, both gay and straight, tell us they're so glad that we're doing this work."

One of their visitors was state representative Jon Peterson, who holds the seat Marconi ran for in 1998. At first Peterson supported the amendment. "He didn't think it would impact anything else," said Marconi, who befriended Peterson. "He was outraged that the next step was to try and outlaw same-sex adoptions."

Peterson has since come around because "he realized that the amendment wasn't about reaffirming traditional marriage but about being nasty to people. It ran against everything in his moral blood."

At this year's county fair there's been, naturally, a lot of talk about the presidential election. Filipic and Marconi both praying that Obama wins. "I'm losing sleep over it," said Marconi.

And so, it seems, are many others in Delaware County -- but not for a bad reason. They're losing sleep because everyone is working so hard to deliver the county for Obama. After Hurricane Ike swept through, they lost their Obama lawn sign. A friend went down to the local Obama office to pick them up a new one and told them that the place was packed.

"It's exciting for a county that doesn't have one elected Democratic representative," said Filipic. "They're all Republicans, but we have no idea where their headquarters is."

Marconi chimed in to say that there aren't any flyers for McCain or banners flying anywhere. And when he took a break from sitting at the alliance's table at the county fair to stop by the political tables, the Democrats' booth was mobbed, he said, while the Republican booth was empty.

"That's promising," said Filipic.

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