COLUMBUS - Backers of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Ohio will start collecting signatures this morning to put the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot.
"We believe the faith community will weigh in on this big time," said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values. "Most people in the faith community see marriage as God-ordained."
A coalition called the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage faces an Aug. 4 deadline to collect at least 322,899 signatures of registered voters.
So far, 22 groups including members of the Christian Coalition of Ohio, the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council will take part in the petition drive, Mr. Burress said.
Barry Sheets, director of Columbus operations for Citizens for Community Values, announced the start of the petition drive minutes after a judge denied a request from a Cleveland-area gay couple who wanted an order to block the petition drive.
But Judge Daniel T. Hogan of Franklin County Common Pleas Court barred supporters of the constitutional amendment from filing their petitions with the Ohio secretary of state until it is resolved whether a summary of the ballot issue is "fair and truthful." The judge, a Republican, wrote, "The court will observe
that there are arguably problems with the language of the summary of the proposed amendment."
The proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution would say: "Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions.
"This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, or significance, or effect of marriage," the text says.
The summary that the attorney general's office certified on April 28 as "fair and truthful" states: "The amendment denies the validity and prohibits the legal recognition as marriage in Ohio of same-sex relationships and relationships comprised of three or more persons, and forbids according nonmarital relationships a legal status intended to approximate marriage in certain respects."
Thomas J. Rankin - a Westlake resident who said he has lived with his partner, Raymond Zander, for 17 years - said the summary is not "truthful" because the constitutional amendment also would prohibit unmarried heterosexual couples from receiving government benefits, medical insurance coverage, and residential, property, custody, and guardianship rights.
"The language of the summary defines the rights of individuals," said Mr. Rankin, 50. "Whether people are straight or gay, no one should be able to put their values into the Ohio Constitution. This is about our civil rights."
Tim Downing, a Cleveland attorney and spokesman for a pro-gay rights group, said the summary is not "truthful" because it implies that bigamy, polygamy, and gay marriage aren't barred by state law. They are prohibited, Mr. Downing said.
Although Judge Hogan allowed backers of the constitutional amendment to start collecting signatures, he said the petitions can't be filed until he rules whether the summary is "fair and truthful."
He suggested that by using the text of the constitutional amendment as its summary, the dispute could be avoided.
Mr. Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, said the constitutional amendment would not have any effect on companies that provide health and other benefits to unmarried couples.
He referred to the lawsuit that Mr. Rankin and Mr. Zander filed as "harassment."
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