Portman announcement comes as gay marriage issue may be returning to the ballot

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s supportive stance on same-sex marriage made ripples across the country but perhaps most loudly in his home state of Ohio where the issue could be headed for the ballot.

Portman told reporters he would support overturning Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban if the issue was put on the ballot. And there happens to be a constitutional amendment in the works, slated to make the ballot in November 2013 or in 2014.

Portman didn’t endorse the Freedom to Marry amendment, but leaders of the movement took Portman’s announcement as his approval. The Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment would repeal the earlier language and allow two “natural persons” to marry while exempting religious organizations from performing or recognizing marriages outside their beliefs.

“True leadership is found in those who turn from opposition to support, not by political calculations but the love of family,” said Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, the group pushing to repeal Ohio’s same-sex marriage ban. “The fact the senator is not only embracing marriage equality but being so supportive of repealing Ohio’s marriage ban despite his politics.”

The Ohio Constitution describes marriage as “only a union between one man and one woman,” language added through a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2004.

Lori Viars, vice-chair of the Warren County Republican Party, worked on the committee behind the 2004 amendment. She said Portman’s announcement was disappointing, but not surprising.

“Portman has never been a champion for the conservative movement, but he’s never been a dire enemy of the conservatives either,” Viars said. “He’s always been kind of a mushy middle — better than a lot of senators but worse than others.”

Viars said protecting traditional marriage is part of the GOP platform, and conservatives will fight any threat to the current ban on same-sex marriage.

The 2004 ban passed with 62 percent of the vote. Exit polls showed the ban boosted evangelical turnout and pushed Republican President George W. Bush past then-Sen. John Kerry in one of the closest presidential elections in recent Ohio history. Polls before the election showed anywhere from 48 to 65 percent in favor of the ban.

James said Ohio is politically a purple state, and Portman’s position change on gay marriage reflects the state as a whole.

“This game-changing event is going to spur more thoughtful dialogue and as we roll on into the next couple weeks of Supreme Court arguments.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments later this month on two gay marriage cases and is expected to rule on them by the end of the year.

A December poll by Quinnipiac University showed 45 percent of Ohioans support same-sex marriage and 47 percent oppose it. But a Washington Post poll of Ohio voters in September found 52 in favor of legal same-sex marriage and 37 percent against.

FreedomOhio officials have not said whether they’ll attempt to qualify this year or next to put gay marriage on the Ohio ballot, but said they have thousands of volunteers collecting the required 385,253 signatures. If passed, Ohio would become the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriages.

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