Supporters of same-sex marriage in Ohio want to get this one right.
Voters have never reversed a state constitution’s gay marriage ban, advocates say, and if Ohio is going to be the first the timing has to be perfect. When one supporter suggested last summer that a measure could be on the 2014 ballot, a slew of others quickly spoke up to deny it. We’re focused on building support, not setting a timeline, they said. But a new poll out Monday shows that things are trending in their favor.
When Ohioans passed the ban a decade ago, they did so by a wide margin. It passed with 62 percent support and majorities in all but one of the state’s 88 counties. But in the Monday poll from Quinnipiac University, support for same-sex marriage there hit 50 percent for the first time, compared with similarly worded questions over the past few years. Support for same-sex marriage now leads by wide margins among Democrats, Independents and women. Men narrowly oppose it, as the chart below shows, while Republicans and seniors oppose it by similarly wide margins.
It’s those groups that proponents of reversing the ban are focused on, Mike Premo, campaign manager for Why Marriage Matters Ohio, said earlier this month. In their minds, every group can be convinced — it’s just a matter of marketing.
“It’s finding the right message for these people,” he says. “You have to find the right messengers. I can go and give a rousing speech at a church in Dayton, Ohio, and nobody’s going to care because I’m not from there. They don’t know me. So what I say doesn’t hold as much weight as, say, a local businessman or a local minister — someone who’s going to have some real gravitas with local folks.”
Activists committed to preserving the ban are equally convinced that they have the support they need. And the dispute over timing confirms that, says Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values and a key player behind the 2004 ban.
“They are obviously wavering in the wind,” he said earlier this month.
Burress says his group has built up a network across the state’s 88 counties and expects continued support for the ban from the state’s evangelical and Catholic communities. He’s wrapping up a census of the state’s lawmakers and has found all but a few Republicans have said they support traditional marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Sen. Rob Portman (R) is a high-profile exception. Last year, he announced that he now supported gay marriage in light of discovering that his son was gay. That hasn’t been forgotten.
“It was devastating,” Burress said. “It still is.”
Same-sex marriage advocates recognize that supporting gay marriage is still politically difficult in the Buckeye State. “There are definitely people who can’t come out publicly and support it for fear of a primary challenge,” Premo said. But they also see Portman as an early adopter, not an outlier.
If the trend in the Quinnipiac polling holds up, they may be right.