Marriage equality groups announce Why Marriage Matters Ohio campaign

Kelli Fitzpatrick

Four same-sex marriage advocacy groups teamed up to publicize a new campaign Sept. 9, aimed at educating Ohioans about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights and marriage equality.

Why Marriage Matters Ohio is a statewide campaign run by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Freedom to Marry, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation and the Equality Ohio Education Fund.

Elyzabeth Holford, executive director of Equality Ohio and chair of Why Marriage Matters Ohio, said the groups began collaborating in early 2012. The evidence of a need for action came from multiple polls indicating more Ohioans — though not a majority — becoming favorable of laws regarding LGTBQ rights.

Most recently, a Public Religion Research Institute poll found 45 percent of Ohio voters would approve a same-sex marriage amendment, and 68 percent favor laws protecting gay and lesbian people against job discrimination, both of which Ohio currently lacks.

“That kind of tipped the scales for us,” Holford said. “We needed to get the word out. We know how marriage equality campaigns work: They start with education campaigns and one-on-one conversations in all 88 counties.”

That education will come in the form of volunteers canvassing across Ohio.

“Although WMMO just officially launched, we’ve been doing this work for quite a while,” Holford said. “We train volunteers with specific curriculums that have been developed through years of campaigns around the country.”

Among the new campaign’s endorsements are Rep. Nickie Antonio, Columbus City Council President Andrew Ginther and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

“All Americans should be able to marry the person they love, and they should be able to celebrate that love in Ohio,” Brown said in a statement. “Why Marriage Matters Ohio will bring this issue of equal rights to the forefront.”

Jason Jaffery, development director of ACLU of Ohio Foundation, said his group’s support of the new campaign “just makes sense.”

“We’ve been around for over 50 years, and we work to protect rights through advocacy and education,” Jaffery said. “When the opportunity to work in collaboration with the other founders of Why Marriage Matters Ohio came about, we enthusiastically joined in.”

A main focus of the education will be persuading the Ohioans thatdon’t support LGBTQ rights.

“Ohioans need to be educated about marriage equality,”” Jaffery said. “This is one of those issues that people think doesn’t affect them[…] But as we start [to educate], they will understand someone in their family or group of friends is affected by this.”

Ian James, co-founder of the same-sex marriage campaign FreedomOhio, said he is supportive of the effort despite his group not being part of the coalition.

“We are very excited and pleased that they are pursuing this,” James said. “Having the effort going forward in tandem with (Why Marriage Matters Ohio) allows us to focus on direct voter contact […] it all revolves around a conversation we haven’t had in Ohio for the better part of nine years.”

FreedomOhio’s goals include filing an amendment in July 2014 to appear on the November ballot, overturning a 2004 Ohio constitutional amendment that defines marriage as remaining between a man and woman. On the contrary, Why Marriage Matters Ohio will not work on an amendment just yet.

“There’s a thing about setting a date — most campaigns wait until they have the support,” Holford said. “We’re not supplementing [FreedomOhio’s] goals at all. We will have an amendment on the ballot when the time is right.”

Such an amendment would address LGBTQ rights including employment nondiscrimination and anti-bullying measures, as well as marriage equality.

“The reality is […] Ohioans are pretty amazing and fair,” Holford said. “And we don’t have laws that reflect that.”

Kelli Fitzpatrick is a city reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].