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Published: Wednesday, 8/18/2004

State panel OKs words for ballot measure

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS A state board led by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell yesterday approved the ballot language that would add a ban against same-sex marriage and civil unions to the state s Constitution.

By a unanimous vote, the five-member Ballot Board decided to use the entire two-sentence, 55-word amendment as Issue 1.

It states: 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, significance or effect of marriage.

Backers of the constitutional amendment praised the board s decision. That is the most fair way that this politically charged issue can be presented to the voters in a way that won t mislead those voters in any way, shape, or form, said attorney David Langdon, who represents the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage.

Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values has submitted nearly 392,000 petition signatures, but it s unclear yet whether they have the 322,899 valid signatures of registered voters to get the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot.

State law says the Ballot Board, which the Republicans control, must meet no later than 75 days before the election.

Gay-rights supporters offered a 102-word alternative that the Ballot Board did not vote on.

Alan Melamed, chairman of Ohioans Protecting the Constitution, said the version that the Ballot Board approved is so ambiguous and so unclear that the proponents have offered at least four or five explanations of what it means.

Mr. Melamed said his alternative version would have made it clear that governments and universities wouldn t be able to grant rights, protections, benefits. to all unmarried individuals, not just same-sex couples.

Mr. Blackwell, a Republican who is a major supporter of the constitutional amendment, said state law requires the Ballot Board to use either the full text of the proposal or a condensed version.

He said Mr. Melamed s version violated that because it totaled 102 words, but Mr. Melamed countered that his version was condensed because it s one sentence instead of two.

Mr. Blackwell replied: I would suggest that you didn t have former President Bill Clinton as your representative, but Don McTigue, a man of more substantial character and common sense.

Mr. McTigue is the attorney representing Ohioans Protecting the Constitution. Mr. Blackwell said later he was referring to Mr. Clinton s 1998 grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky affair: It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.

Mr. Melamed replied that his goal was to remove politics from the issue, as opposed to Mr. Blackwell who recently said the Bush campaign had asked him to help in the effort to ensure that marriage is between one man and one woman.

State Sen. Jay Hottinger (R., Newark) referred to Mr. Melamed s alternative ballot language as clear as mud. He conceded that perhaps the consequences of the language that the Ballot Board approved yesterday could be confusing.

After yesterday s meeting, Mr. Langdon, the attorney representing the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, said the constitutional amendment would prohibit local governments and state-supported universities and colleges to offer benefits such as health insurance to unmarried couples but private companies could continue to do so.

James Drew can be reached at:jdrew@theblade.comor 614-221-0496.



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