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  • Sasha Issenberg

May 18, 2004: Ohio activist launches amendment campaign

ON THIS DAY IN 2004…

Cincinnati anti-pornography activist Phil Burress begins collecting signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment for Ohio ballot.


At the start of 2004, Burress had expected his year would be occupied with fighting an effort by Mayor Charlie Luken to amend his city’s charter to remove Article XII, and made Cincinnati the only municipality in the country that preëmptively forbid elected officials from passing any laws to protect gay citizens from bias. Burress had led the 1993 campaign to pass the ordinance, then known as Issue 3, which had survived federal court challenges, and was intent on having his Citizens for Community Values organization defend it again at the ballot.


But on May 18, the day after Massachusetts began permitting same-sex couples to marry for the first time on American soil, Burress’s priorities changed. He gathered CCV’s staff and the group’s outside lawyers and jointly determined that they must do whatever they could to make sure that never happened in Ohio. Until one day earlier, Burress claimed, he had been “in denial” — unable to conceive that the order the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had issued six months earlier would ever actually be fulfilled. “We were devastated,” said Burress. “We had no idea that this was really going to happen.”


Burress committed his organization to the work of banning same-sex unions in Ohio’s constitution. (Just that February, citing the situation in Massachusetts, Governor Bob Taft signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined same-sex marriages in its statute as “against the strong public policy of the state,” but there was no guarantee that state judges wouldn’t just deem it unconstitutional.) Winning a majority of votes for a ban might be easy, but qualifying for the ballot was a tough task in Ohio: Burress had til early August to collect 322,899 signatures, including a critical mass (at least five percent of registered voters) from half of the state’s 88 counties.

Burress would have help. As the Federal Marriage Amendment headed towards failure in Congress, many of his fellow members of the Arlington Group — a cadre of influential, largely evangelical, religious activists — turned their attention to state bans like Ohio’s Issue 1. Ultimately 98 percent of the money raised to pass the measure would come from Arlington Group members.

The Engagement:
America's Quarter-Century
Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage

​By Sasha Issenberg

The riveting story of the battles over gay marriage
in the United States – the most important
civil-rights breakthrough of the new millennium.
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