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CINCINNATI -- Ohio will become one of the next battleground states in the effort to legalize same-sex marriage.
Four groups launched a statewide outreach campaign Monday morning, called “Why Marriage Matters.” The effort is aimed at persuading voters to pass an eventual ballot initiative to allow same-sex couples to marry and have the same legal protections and benefits as heterosexual couples.
A decision hasn’t yet been made whether the ballot initiative would go before Ohio voters in 2014 or 2016.
The groups pushing the effort are Equality Ohio, Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.
The coalition launched its campaign with simultaneous press conferences in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus.
State Rep. Denise Driehaus and Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Seelbach were among the speakers at the Queen City event.
“In Ohio, we value fairness in our everyday lives," Driehaus said at a press conference in Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. "I stand before you as a woman, as a state representative and as a parent. The simple fact, is, I don’t understand why all Ohioans can’t get married.
"Every single one of us should be able to celebrate love and family and the commitment we make to others in the same way," she added.
Seelbach, who is the first openly gay person to serve on City Council, said his support was two-fold. To make Cincinnati economically competitive, it must be inclusive and inviting to everyone.
"When we’re competing for top talent and families, we don’t want there to be an impediment where someone says, ‘I don’t want to come to Ohio because my family is not welcome there’,” Seelbach said.
But he also noted that he doesn't enjoy the same legal benefits with his partner as committed heterosexual couples do.
"My partner, Craig, and I have been together for a little over eight years," Seelbach said. "This really is about my own family, my own family being treated fairly under the law. The person I go home to every single day, who I fight with sometimes, who I try to plan for the future, we’re not treated fairly under state law."
Others attending Monday's event included Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and council candidates Michelle Dillingham, Greg Landsman and Mike Moroski.
A recent poll of voters in Ohio done by the Public Religion Research Institute shows support for marriage equality tied at 47 percent on both sides.
Other polls have indicated public sentiment is trending toward the coalition’s stance.
A Washington Post poll in September 2012 found 52 percent of Ohio residents surveyed said that gay marriage should be legal.
Similarly, a March 2013 Columbus Dispatch poll found 54 percent of Ohio residents supported allowing same-sex marriage.
That stands in sharp contrast to attitudes just a decade ago.
In 2004, voters approved a constitutional amendment banned same-sex marriage, with 62 percent of voters supporting the measure.
Since that time, several states have reversed course and allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry.
Same-sex couples can legally marry in 13 states and in Washington, D.C.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for the federal government to deny federal benefits of marriage to married same-sex couples, if the couple was married in a state that allows such unions.
Phil Burress, head of Citizens for Community Values, was instrumental in getting the 2004 same-sex marriage ban passed. He vows to oppose the current effort, too.
"They want to change one of the oldest institutions on the face of the Earth," Burress said. "Once they change it, polygamy can't be far behind."
Burress thinks if same-sex marriage is legalized, information about homosexuality eventually will be taught in public schools.
"As goes marriage, so goes the nation," he said. "Right now, this nation isn't doing too well."
CCV has prepared contacts in all 88 Ohio counties and in roughly 10,000 churches statewide.
"Apparently, (Equality Ohio) is targeting the 6 percent who are undecided," Burress said. "That was the same as in 2004. That 6 percent is ours."
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