Just as the assault on collective bargaining ignited the passions of the unions and their Democratic allies, the campaign to legalize gay marriage in Ohio will trigger an uprising among social conservatives, churches and other religious organizations, and rank and file Republicans.
That isn’t good news for Democrats who hope to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich next year.
It doesn’t matter if the ballot initiative to overturn the 2004 constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage is placed before the voters this November or November 2014. Once Ohioans who believe in the traditional definition of marriage — as between a man and a woman — take on the Freedom to Marry Coalition, they will be in it for the long haul.
It doesn’t even matter if Gov. Kasich stays neutral. The issue is larger than one politician or a gaggle of politicians because it’s personal.
The latest public opinion poll shows that Kasich’s approval rating is climbing and that he would defeat any Democratic challenger if the election were today.
His chances of success will be much greater in 2014 if Freedom to Marry secures the 385,253 valid signatures of registered voters and places the issue on the ballot.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has approved the petition language for the amendment that would not only set aside the current definition of marriage, but would redefine it as “a union of two consenting adults, regardless of gender.”
In 2004, Karl Rove, the architect of President George W. Bush’s re-election victory over Democrat John Kerry, identified 11 states, including Ohio, as being in play. Rove correctly concluded that voter turnout would be the key, so he came up with the idea of placing the so-called marriage amendment on the ballots. The underlying message of the constitutional initiative was clear: Protect traditional marriage by defining it as between a man and a woman.
In Ohio, the issue became the rallying cry for the Republican Party and other conservative organizations. A stealth outreach campaign brought many first-time or occasional voters to the polls in November 2004. They obviously bought into the argument that the marriage amendment was needed to prevent gays and lesbians legally married in other states from coming into Ohio and demanding recognition and rights enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.
When the votes were counted, the marriage amendment was approved by a whopping 62 percent of the vote.
It was a huge victory for the Republican Party and the issue helped Bush carry the Buckeye State.
Seven years later, in 2011, it was the public and private sector unions and the Ohio Democratic Party that were celebrating the defeat of State Issue 2, which asked voters if Senate Bill 5, the collective-bargaining reform act that Kasich signed into law, should be upheld or killed.
More than 60 percent of the voters said the collective bargaining law should die.
That was a major defeat for the governor and his Republican allies in the General Assembly. The setback even caused Kasich to reassess the political virtues of pursuing another explosive issue, right-to-work.
During his campaign in 2010, the Republican nominee indicated that making Ohio a right-to-work state would be on his agenda if he were elected.
But today, in light of the backlash to collective bargaining reform, Kasich is steering clear of the issue.
However, there are some Republican legislators who believe that right-to-work is a winning issue and intend to pursue it this year.
Imagine the election next year with right-to-work and the new definition of marriage on the ballot.
Republicans will go to the polls in droves, given their virulent opposition to same-sex marriage and their belief that labor unions are the bane of the state’s economic recovery.
But it won’t only be the conservatives who vote against the marriage equality initiative. Catholic bishops and priests will urge their congregations to vote no, as will black ministers who strongly oppose homosexuality.
If the Democratic Party is seen as pushing same-sex marriage — the leadership of the Mahoning County party endorsed the initiative last week — it will suffer in statewide races, especially for governor.