COLUMBUS: A prominent Ohio Republican and former Cabinet member of Gov. John Kasich’s administration said Monday he supports an effort to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, contending the prohibition fosters intolerance and creates a roadblock to diversity.
Jim Petro, a former attorney general and state chancellor of higher education, has a daughter who is gay. She and her wife, who live in Massachusetts, are expecting their first child this fall.
“I believe in marriage equality, and I believe Ohio will be better and have better prospects for economic growth and prosperity if we did not have restrictive language in our Constitution as [the ban] provides,” he told reporters at a news conference in Columbus.
Petro was joined by Ian James, the co-founder of FreedomOhio, which is seeking to repeal and replace a 2004 constitutional amendment that prohibits gay marriage in Ohio.
Petro’s endorsement of the repeal effort comes as the group is trying to sway more Republicans to publicly back the campaign.
The group’s replacement amendment would allow two consenting adults to marry regardless of gender. It also wouldn’t require churches and other religious institutions to perform or recognize a marriage.
James said getting the amendment passed in the perennial presidential battleground state would require GOP supporters of gay marriage to be just as engaged as Democrats.
Gay marriage has long been an issue of partisan political debate, with many Republicans opposed. More recently, the GOP has been grappling with the nation’s increasing acceptance of gay rights.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman announced his support of same-sex marriage earlier this year after learning one of his sons is gay. His reversal made him the first Republican in the Senate to back gay marriage.
James said the group has had conversations with Portman on the amendment, and the senator from southwestern Ohio has indicated he doesn’t want to take a position as a campaign operative.
Petro previously has announced his opposition to the state’s amendment banning gay marriage. He was the first statewide elected official at the time to come out against the 2004 ballot issue, saying it was too vague and could hurt the economy.
He said Monday he has been surprised by the reluctance and hesitation of the GOP to support gay marriage.
“Because Republicans should be for freedom, they should be for equality and they should be supportive of the notion of commitment,” he said.
Petro served two terms as Ohio auditor before being elected the state attorney general in 2002. He sought the governor’s seat in 2006 but lost a GOP primary among three sitting state officeholders. He retired as chancellor under Kasich in February.
Kasich, a Republican who faces re-election next year, opposes gay marriage and civil unions.
Supporters of the replacement amendment have been circulating petitions for more than a year. They need more than 385,000 valid signatures by next July to get the issue before voters in November 2014.
James told reporters he believed the campaign already had met the required number based on the signatures that the group had on hand and in the field. He said more than 4,000 supporters have been out collecting signatures.
The 2004 amendment to ban gay marriage in Ohio has been credited with increasing turnout in the state’s GOP-heavy south and west, helping George W. Bush carry the pivotal state. It was supported by 62 percent of Ohio voters at the time.
The leader of a conservative group that promoted passage of the ban said its backers began organizing last year and were prepared to defend the current amendment.
Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values Action, said his organization planned to make gay marriage an election issue for each member of the Ohio legislature, should the amendment be on the ballot.
“Candidates who support same-sex marriage will pay a price,” he said.