Thursday, October 14, 2004

Taft: 'No' on same-sex issue

Amendment goes too far beyond marriage ban, governor says

By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Calling it unnecessary, overly broad and potentially harmful to the state's economy, Gov. Bob Taft on Wednesday said he's opposing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and benefits for unmarried couples.

Taft doesn't like that the amendment, state Issue 1, goes beyond the Defense of Marriage Act he signed into law in February. The law declares marriage is between one man and one woman, and forbids the state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Taft said he has a problem with the second sentence of the proposed amendment, which forbids a legal status for unmarried individuals "that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

There will be as many interpretations of those words, Taft said, "as there are judges in the state of Ohio."

"It is an ambiguous invitation to litigation that will result in unintended consequences for senior citizens and for any two persons who share living accommodations," he said in a written statement.

Taft was the last Republican statewide elected official to take a public position on Issue 1. Attorney General Jim Petro and U.S. Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich also oppose the measure.

Auditor Betty Montgomery, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Treasurer Joe Deters support the amendment.

Phil Burress, who is heading the effort to pass Issue 1, said few people are undecided about the amendment, so he doubts Taft's opposition will have an impact.

He also dismissed Taft's criticism, saying he is getting bad legal advice.

"We're very comfortable with the words," he said. "I wish Gov. Taft well, but he's wrong again."

Burress said he was disturbed by Taft's statement that the amendment would make it more difficult for Ohio "to retain and attract the young talented knowledge workers we need to advance Ohio's prosperity."

"That's an insult that somehow only the best and brightest are homosexuals," Burress said.

But Taft and other opponents see Issue 1 as so broad it could potentially affect any unmarried couple - gay or not.

Lining up on two sides

Nationwide Insurance this week also came out in opposition to the amendment, joining The Limited Group among large corporations urging the defeat of Issue 1. Other opponents include the AARP, League of Women Voters, Ohio State University and several large-city mayors.

Ohio's Catholic bishops are supporting the measure.

Although he's voting against it, Taft is not expected to campaign against Issue 1 or raise money for opponents, said spokesman Joe Andrews, noting the governor is busy with other election matters.

Regardless of the extent of Taft's efforts, Issue 1 opponents are happy to have him on their side.

"Adding his voice to the choir of opposition makes our fund-raising that much easier," said Alan Melamed, chairman of the coalition working to defeat Issue 1.

Melamed said his group expects to raise close to $1 million this week for radio and television ads that will begin running within 10 days of the election.

Governor's low profile

Taft has been keeping a low profile this election season, despite the must-win status of his state and his title as chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

He has made very few appearances on stage at Bush rallies, and with less than six weeks left in this election season, Taft left Ohio on a two-week trade mission to Japan, Taiwan and California.

Taft's approval numbers have slumped below 50 percent as Ohio's economy slumped and he hiked the sales tax by a penny in June 2003 to balance the two-year budget. The tax hike puts him at odds with Bush's message that federal tax cuts stimulate the economy.

Taft even faced boos in May while speaking at a Bush rally at Cincinnati Gardens.

Kevin Madden, spokesman for the Bush campaign, said he's not worried that Taft's opposition to Issue 1 could be perceived as different from Bush's support of a federal amendment banning gay marriage.

"On the issue of marriage, the president is very well-defined," he said. "Voters know where the president stands when it comes to the defense of marriage."


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