By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
Supporters of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage expect to submit more than 400,000 signatures today to place the issue on the November ballot in Ohio.
If at least 323,000 signatures are certified and withstand likely legal challenges, voters could alter the state constitution for the first time since 1997.
At least 10 states, including Kentucky, have constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage on the November ballot. Missouri voters will decide a gay-marriage amendment today in a special election.
The Ohio amendment would prevent the state from recognizing gay marriage and deems civil unions and domestic partnerships unlawful.
"This protects the institution of marriage, the way it's always been," said Phil Burress, chairman of Ohioans to Protect Marriages, which circulated the petitions.
The amendment goes further than the Defense of Marriage Act that Gov. Bob Taft signed in February. The amendment prohibits any legal status that "intends to approximate ... marriage."
"If somehow a court says we will not call it marriage, you are going to be unionized, it's just marriage by another name," Burress said. "It's an end-run around the law and destroys the institution of marriage."
Taft has said he will not support any efforts that go beyond the same-sex marriage law.
Alan Melamed is chairman of a group preparing a legal and political challenge to the amendment.
Melamed said domestic partner benefits would be banned from universities and could become legally complicated for private companies.
Dozens of Ohio companies and four state universities offer domestic partner benefits to employees.
"If this passes, it's going to take away important tools universities and private companies have to compete and be successful," Melamed said. "When people realize how extreme this is, they will reject it."
Burress denies the amendment would stop companies from offering domestic partner benefits. He argued such wording is necessary to ensure the state doesn't recognize the benefits.
Once filed with the Secretary of State's Office, petitions will be examined and certified by county boards of election. To qualify for the ballot, signatures in 44 counties must total at least 5 percent of those who voted in each county's last governor's election. Burress said the group has signatures from 71 of Ohio's 88 counties.
Text of the amendment
"Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."
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