Lead Plaintiff in Gay Marriage Case Backs Dem's Senate Bid

Tuesday Dec 15, 2015
Jim Obergefell
Jim Obergefell  (Source:Matt Rourke, AP)

COLUMBUS, OHIO The lead plaintiff in the landmark lawsuit that led to legal gay marriage nationwide endorsed the Democratic challenger to Ohio senator Rob Portman on Monday, despite Portman's dramatic position reversal in favor of same-sex unions.

James Obergefell decided to back former Gov. Ted Strickland in next year's closely watched U.S. Senate contest, he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Obergefell said he appreciates Portman's support for marriage equality but disagrees with his position that the issue should be decided state by state. Both men are from Cincinnati.

"I would simply ask him, does he want to travel from state to state or move from state to state, and have his marriage suddenly disappear? So while I appreciate his support there, his support isn't 100 percent behind the LGBTQ community," Obergefell said. "I simply can't support a candidate who isn't fully on my side and will fight for me as a full, equal American."

Strickland still must win his party's nomination to face Portman, who alienated some conservatives with his 2014 decision to support gay marriage after learning a son is gay.

Portman's campaign said Monday that he's still the better candidate for Ohio families.

"Under (Strickland's) leadership Ohio lost over 350,000 jobs and ranked 48th in job creation," said spokesman Corry Bliss. "As a member of Congress Ted Strickland was ranked as one of the most absent and ineffective members of Congress failing to pass a single bill in over a decade in Washington. Ohio voters are too smart to let Ted Strickland fail Ohio in the U.S. Senate."

Obergefell recognized Portman for bucking the Republican party line on the gay-marriage issue, but he said Strickland and the Democrats align with his stances on a host of other gay-rights issues, such as anti-discrimination laws in the workplace and opposing conversion therapy that aims to change a person's sexual orientation.

"I absolutely think that there is value to members of either party on any issue who take a principled stand and do buck the party line. That's always a good thing," Obergefell said, but added Portman is "one voice speaking out in a sea of hatred toward the gay community, and that's really the only word I can come up with."

Strickland said although both he and Portman are gay marriage supporters, that will not neutralize debate on the issue in the fall should he win the March primary against Cincinnati councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, as most expect.

"I don't know how the senator could say that something was a right and yet that a state could take away that right," Strickland said. "And there are other aspects of marriage equality that the senator and I differ on significantly." He named conversion therapy and the Equality Act of 2015, a congressional bill to include protections to the Civil Rights Act based on sexual orientation and gender identity in arenas including employment, housing and jury selections.

Portman did, however, come out in support of a 2014 executive order of President Barack Obama's that protected federal workers from unjust discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

Strickland has long opposed state- and federal-level gay marriage bans, but the ordained Methodist minister stated personal opposition to gay marriage until 2010. He supported civil unions, however.

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