By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS - Backers and opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage both found things to like about a new poll showing a majority of Ohioans support the issue.
The University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll found 56 percent of 763 likely voters would approve the proposed language on the November ballot if it withstands legal challenges. Forty percent said they would vote against it, and 4 percent were undecided.
The poll, conducted by telephone from Aug. 11-17, has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Phil Burress, chairman of the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, the Cincinnati-based group pushing to get the amendment on the ballot, said he is not concerned the support is below the 70-percent range he has predicted.
Respondents were read the language of the amendment, which Burress describes as "something written by a lawyer."
"Once we get done with the media and people understand we are talking about homosexual and lesbian marriages, I think that will go back up to 70 percent," he said.
One-third of respondents said they had not heard about the amendment, meaning the campaigns for and against the issue could still sway voters, said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the Ohio Poll.
Alan Melamed, chairman of the political action committee opposing the amendment, said he was "thrilled" with the poll.
He had he expected it would show at least 65 percent supporting the amendment.
"For them to only have a 56-40 lead when we have only just begun to get our message out ... shows this is already resonating with people that this is not about gay marriage," he said. "It's about taking away protections and benefits of all unmarried couples."
The amendment would ban gay marriage, end domestic partner benefits offered by four state universities, and could affect legal agreements between unmarried couples.
Supporters say the amendment is needed to ensure that judges do not force Ohio to recognize gay marriage or civil unions. Opponents argue the proposal is unnecessary and would be damaging to families and the state economy.
The amendment is splitting voters for President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, according to the poll. Of Bush voters, 74 percent said they would favor the amendment, while 40 percent of Kerry voters support it.
Burress said his polling says the issue would drive more people to the polls who favor Bush. But others disagree about its impact.
Herb Asher, a political science professor at the Ohio State University, said Ohio's media attention as a battleground state, frequent visits by the candidates, and major get-out-the-vote campaigns by both parties will already drive a high turnout.
"I don't know how much (the amendment) can add to that," he said.
Bush supports a federal marriage amendment, but the Senate rejected it in July.
The amendment may not make it on the ballot at all.
Columbus-area attorney Donald McTigue, an expert in election law hired by opponents of the amendment, said Wednesday he has filed challenges to petitions in five counties. As more county boards of elections certify petitions, he'll file more legal actions, he said.
"I expect we'll find the same issues in every county," said McTigue, who doesn't think the issues can be resolved before November, thus keeping the amendment off the ballot.
The petitions contain incomplete dates and addresses along with improperly filled out witness statements and forms that record how much petitioners were paid, he said.
Burress has labeled the opposition group's legal actions an "anti-democracy campaign." His group must get 323,000 signatures certified for the amendment to qualify for the ballot. It submitted 391,000.
Text of 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."
Washington correspondent Carl Weiser contributed to this story. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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