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April 20. 2012

Marriage initiative summit canceled after backers pull out

Columbus--A gathering of community leaders to discuss a proposed Ohio constitutional amendment to allow same-sex marriage was canceled when two of the measure’s proponents declined to attend.

The April 9 summit was called by Ed Feighan and Tim Hagan to “build a bridge” between the Human Rights Campaign, Equality Ohio and the group campaigning to put the amendment on the ballot in 2013, called Freedom to Marry Ohio.

Equality Ohio director Ed Mullen said the meeting’s purpose was to create structure and process for the groups to work together, discuss conflicts of interest, and financial accountability.

Hagan, a former Cuyahoga County commissioner, was a co-chair of the amendment campaign. He has since stepped down.

Feighan is a former member of Congress from northeast Ohio, who has since come out as gay.

Along with Hagan and Feighan, the meeting was to include former Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy of central Ohio, who is Freedom to Marry Ohio’s CEO; Columbus City Council President Andy Ginther and Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady, who are its other co-chairs; and political consultant Ian James, who began the campaign earlier this year.

They were to meet with Lisa Zellner of HRC Columbus, Tim Downing of HRC Cleveland, Karen Aranoff of HRC Cincinnati, and Mullen.

But the meeting didn’t happen because James and Kilroy cancelled the day before.

Feighan said James cited “harsh, mean-spirited, vicious comments” in the media as the reason.

James said the meeting was “postponed to a later date.”

“Mary Jo has asked in a letter to Equality Ohio to meet with their board and is awaiting a response,” James wrote in an April 18 e-mail. “Our door is not closed, not cracked open, but wide open to ongoing conversations with EO and other organizations.”

Hagan resigned his position as campaign co-chair when his questions about the way it was being organized were not answered.

“Questions have been raised,” Hagan said, “and it could have been solved by having everyone at the table.”

“They declined a meeting because they thought they were unduly criticized,” he said.

Hagan said he agreed to be the campaign co-chair because he supports marriage equality, and he thought there was consensus within the LGBT community as to how to proceed.

“The trouble is that HRC and Equality Ohio are not on board,” Hagan said, “and there’s legitimate concern there that not everybody’s marching to the same drummer.”

The national Freedom to Marry group has also said it is not associated with the Ohio campaign and would not support it.

Hagan said discovering that was “news to me.”

Hagan added that his friend, Cleveland NAACP president George Forbes, who endorsed the campaign, is expressing concern about it for the same reason, though he supports the cause of marriage equality.

Hagan said a campaign that doesn’t have the trust of groups like HRC and Equality Ohio and doesn’t have a competent organizational structure cannot win.

“I’m in it to win, not for therapy,” Hagan said.

The campaign began February 6 as a Facebook page by James to get Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman to sign onto a Mayors for Marriage list sponsored by the national Freedom to Marry group.

Inspired by the success of that effort, James filed ballot language with the Ohio attorney general less than a month later, the first step to amending the state constitution.

The first text was rejected, but a second version was certified April 3, clearing the way for James and the Ohio group to collect the 385,253 signatures needed to get it on the ballot.

James is the chief executive officer of the Strategy Network, a campaign consulting firm. He is also the CEO of Professional Petition Management, LLC, which is a signature-gathering firm.

Freedom to Marry Ohio lists its address as 1349 East Broad Street in Columbus, which is also the address of the Strategy Network and Professional Petition Management.

James said that all the signatures will be gathered by volunteers, and that his companies would supply expertise, but that neither of them would be paid.

“My companies are not being paid, and in fact are volunteering time and resources,” he said. “At this time, there are no plans for either one of my companies to be on the payroll.”

James noted that Kilroy is also volunteering her time at present. “We anticipate that [former Rep.] Kilroy will eventually be paid for her work as chief executive officer of Freedom Ohio.”

Feighan was more direct than Hagan in his criticism of Freedom to Marry Ohio’s structure.

“It’s troubling that a political consultant in our community would take on an issue unilaterally without oversight,” said Feighan. “It’s an obvious conflict of interest.”

“It’s exceedingly important that there is oversight and a governing entity that is credible,” Feighan continued.

Feighan said that a consultant for a campaign large enough to pass this amendment would typically get a fee of 8 to 12 percent of what is raised. It is expected that a successful campaign would cost $10 million.

Feighan said if James goes forward, he will have difficulty raising money.

“Their leadership has resigned because [James and Kilroy] have frozen out everyone demanding transparency and accountability,” Feighan said.

“It seems to me that there is united concern, yet [James’] response is that he’s undeterred,” said Feighan. “His response should be, ‘let’s work together’.”

Asked in an e‑mail about the lack of organizational support, James wrote, “The organizations and just as importantly their members are always welcome to join the Freedom to Marry movement.”

“There are tens of thousands of Ohioans who are looking for a way to be active and engaged to end marriage discrimination and to bring Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom to Ohio,” he continued. “We are moving forward and we will be there for them. They deserve nothing less than our wholehearted commitment to fairness, equality, and human rights.”

“Ohio’s loving couples have waited 8 years for the freedom to marry. The grassroots effort will not stop until all Ohioans have the freedom to marry,” James concluded.

Equality Ohio has stepped up its efforts to organize the state around marriage equality.

With HRC, Equality Ohio is hosting a meeting April 29 to try to pull together a steering committee from around the state to decide a course of action.

“I don’t see how an effort goes forward without the broad coalition that needs to be built,” said Mullen, “not a handful of people in Columbus.”

Related stories

National Freedom to Marry will not back Ohio effort April 4, 2012

Ohio marriage petition drive moves forward March 23, 2012

Equality Ohio cautious on marriage measure March 9, 2012

Petitions would bring marriage to Ohio February 24, 2012

The lessons of Issue 1: Ohio needs better statewide preparation for the next ballot issue, leaders say January 14, 2005

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