Are the stars aligning over Ohio toward legalizing same-sex marriages in the Buckeye State?
Advocates of gay marriage here have good reasons to believe so. A series of recent judicial rulings as well as public-attitude adjustments have energized the movement toward a potentially rapid and revolutionary revision in state law.
2013 ended this week as a watershed year for the advancement of marriage equality in the United States. Eight states — Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico and Utah — joined 10 others and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage. That is the fastest track of growth since Massachusetts became the first state to do so 10 years ago.
In Ohio, where gay marriage has been officially illegal since voters — by a 62 percent margin — outlawed the practice in 2004, recent judicial decisions have buoyed supporters. Foremost among those rulings is one from federal Judge Timothy Black who on Dec. 23 ordered Ohio to recognize same-sex marriages from other states on death certificates, calling Ohio’s ban on same-gender marriage unconstitutional.
That ruling came on the heels of last year’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidating key portions of the Defense of Marriage Act. In his dissenting opinion in that case, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia offered a thoughtful and probable glimpse into the future.
“The real rationale of today’s opinion ... is that DOMA is motivated by a bare desire to harm couples in same-sex marriages. ... How easy is it, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status.”
Scalia’s case for the inevitability of marriage equality gained more ground last week when Judge Robert J. Shelby of the U.S. District Court for Utah ruled that ultra-conservative state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. Like Ohio, Utah’s ban resulted from a citizens’ ballot initiative. Its adjudication in the U.S. Supreme Court likely will have strong and direct repercussions for Ohio.
POPULAR SUPPORT GROWS
As judicial rulings have pivoted toward support for gay marriage in recent years, so, too, has public opinion. A March 2013 Saperstein poll for the Columbus Dispatch revealed that 54 percent of Ohio residents surveyed supported a proposed amendment that would overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. In addition, a 2013 Public Policy Polling survey found that 69 percent of Ohioans support either marriage or civil unions for gay couples, including a majority of Republican voters. Only 27 percent in that poll said no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship should be given by the state.
And unlike in 2004, today prominent and respected Ohio Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and former Attorney General and Auditor Jim Petro, publicly advocate enactment of same-sex marriage.
All of these developments are galvanizing Freedom Ohio to continue its campaign to get a statewide issue on the ballot this year to repeal the 2004 amendment. Its work is gaining steam as language for the measure has been approved by the Ohio attorney general and the state ballot board, plus it withstood a challenge in the Ohio Supreme Court.
But in the face of such optimism, some mainstream gay-rights groups believe 2014 is not quite the right time for Ohio. They fear a strong Republican and conservative turnout at the polls could re-validate the ban and quash momentum.
Despite questions of timing, however, most analysts and indicators suggest that it no longer is a question of whether Ohio will legalize gay marriage. Most likely, it now merely is a question of when it will do so.