One of Ohio’s former top Republican office holders is supporting the effort to overturn Ohio’s ban on gay marriage.
Republican Jim Petro is well known in Ohio politics. He’s served as Ohio’s Attorney General, State Auditor, Chancellor of Ohio Regents, and a state lawmaker. Now he’s taking a stand in a hot button political issue. Petro is working with the group that wants to put an issue on the ballot next year that would allow Ohioans to vote to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
"It’s intolerant," says Petro. "When you read it, it looks and reads to be intolerant. It doesn’t make Ohio appear to be very welcoming which is the last thing we need and at the same time, it doesn’t foster an air or equality and I think we need to have a better sense of that."
Petro has never backed the prohibition on gay marriage that Ohioans voted to put in place back in 2004. He says he has always been for civil unions and sees virtually no difference between those and marriage in a legal sense. But for Petro, this isn’t just a matter of law, it’s personal.
"Our daughter was totally forthright through her lifetime. From the time she was 13, she would tell me what she thought. She would tell me if I was wrong. My daughter is now 33….no 34….holy cow. She’s married. Her spouse is Jessica. They both are very successful in their careers. They have a beautiful home in Massachusetts. I’m envious sometimes. But they really believe in equality and freedom and I guess I respect so much what they go through," says Petro.
And the couple is about to make Petro a grandfather this fall. He says the gay marriage amendment that’s on the books is a major reason why his daughter does not live in Ohio today. Petro says the ballot issue that’s being planned would allow gay marriages and civil unions in Ohio but would not mandate religious organizations perform or recognize them in their churches. He says that’s the way it ought to be.
"Government should be all about equality," says Petro. "If there are faith based issues around it, that’s a religious issue but that’s not government."
Petro says he’s not going to run for office anymore. He’s hanging up his political hat. But what will Petro’s endorsement of this issue mean for Republican candidates who run in the future, especially since the ban on gay marriage is part of the party’s national platform? Chris Schrimpf is with the Ohio Republican Party. He says his organization hasn’t taken a stand on this possible gay marriage ballot issue yet.
"Any speculation would be premature at this point and if and when it does make the ballot, it would be up to the Republican party’s central committee to make a decision of what the Republican party’s engagement is going to be," says Schrimpf.
Still Schrimpf says the party would likely not refuse to support a candidate because of their stand on the issue.
"We don’t tell candidates or give them some sort of litmus test on how they should behave on any particular issue," says Schrimpf. "That’s a choice they each have to make."
The head of Ohio’s Democratic Party, Chris Redfern, doubts Petro’s support of this issue will make a difference to the Republican Party.
"He has been consistently opposed to the defense of marriage act. Sadly, he doesn’t have many friends in the Republican party who share his similar beliefs," says Redfern.
The head of Freedom Ohio, the group that’s backing the petition drive to overturn Ohio’s ban on gay marriage, says he’s certain the group will be able to put the issue on the ballot next fall. Ian James says four thousand Ohioans have already gathered 200 thousand petition signatures. The group will need 365 thousand valid petition signatures next summer in order to put the issue on the fall 2014 ballot.