Feds investigate threatening letter sent to local NAACP president

Poll show Ohioans divided on gay marriage

More support amendment when told religious liberty protected.

Supporters of a gay marriage amendment to the Ohio Constitution say Ohioans are ready to vote “yes” to allow same-sex couples to legally wed here.

But poll results released Thursday show that the support and opposition to the measure is nearly evenly split.

FreedomOhio, the group behind the “Freedom to Marry” amendment, released a poll showing that 48 percent of Ohio voters support same-sex marriage. When asked about the specific amendment, which allows any church or other religious institution to refuse to marry a same-sex couple, 52 percent of Ohio voters said they would vote “yes” if the election were held today. The amendment language has the support of 72 percent of Democrats, 36 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of independents.

“These are not insignificant,” FreedomOhio Executive Director Ian James said about the numbers. “These are what victories are made of.”

In 2004, Ohioans voted 62 to 38 percent to define marriage as between one man and one woman in the Ohio Constitution. The amendment would repeal the ban, define marriage to be between two natural persons and exempt religious institutions from performing or recognizing marriages different from their beliefs.

But the poll shows the group has more explaining to do to convince enough Ohioans to vote “yes.” Ohio voters who said they would vote “no” were asked again if they would support the amendment, knowing it protects “religious liberties.” Of those, an additional 11 percent said they would support the amendment, according to the poll, which was conducted by the Public Policy Polling organization.

FreedomOhio is trying to collect at least 1 million signatures to turn in July 2014. James said the group has gathered more than the 385,247 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters needed to make the November 2014 ballot.

Citizens for Community Values, which bankrolled the 2004 ban, has pledged to fight any amendment to undo their work. CCV board member Seth Morgan said plans are underway in case the amendment lands on the ballot next year.

Morgan said the “Freedom to Marry” amendment is not about freedom nor liberty but is an effort to redefine marriage and force acceptance of gay lifestyles.

“If Ohioans really understand this amendment, understand its implications and understand what it does and doesn’t do, they’re not going to vote for it,” Morgan said.

Other equality advocates have said 2014 is too soon and a failure then will take years to reverse. Equality Ohio, the group formed in response to Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban, launched a statewide education campaign around the topic of gay marriage and hired campaign manager Michael Premo last week.

Premo said the poll results show the Equality Ohio campaign is working and the group hasn’t ruled out supporting a 2014 ballot initiative.

“We don’t think any one organization or individual should make the call,” Premo said. “It should be a consensus decision in the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community in Ohio whether we have a real chance at victory.”

James said despite differences on timing, both groups are working toward the common goal of removing the ban. The more people who know an LGBT person, the better their chances of reversing the ban, he said.

“It’s awfully tough to say to someone you know, you can’t have the same rights I do by going to the courthouse and getting a marriage license for $45 at the probate court and getting married by a marriage officiant who spends $10 at the Secretary of State’s office to be a licensed marriage officiant,” James said.

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