GOP's Jim Petro joins Ohio gay marriage backers

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A prominent Ohio Republican and former Cabinet member of Gov. John Kasich's administration said Monday that he supports an effort to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage, contending the prohibition fosters intolerance and creates a roadblock to diversity.

Jim Petro, a former attorney general and former state chancellor of higher education, has a daughter who is gay. She and her wife, who live in Massachusetts, are expecting their first child this fall.

"I believe in marriage equality, and I believe Ohio will be better and have better prospects for economic growth and prosperity if we did not have restrictive language in our constitution as (the ban) provides," he told reporters at a news conference in Columbus.

Petro was joined Monday by the co-founder of FreedomOhio, the group seeking to repeal and replace a 2004 constitutional amendment that prohibits gay marriage in Ohio.

The group's replacement amendment would allow two consenting adults to marry regardless of gender. It also wouldn't require churches and other religious institutions to perform or recognize a marriage.

Supporters have been circulating petitions for more than a year. They need more than 385,000 valid signatures by next July to get the issue before voters in November 2014.

Ian James, a co-founder of FreedomOhio, told reporters that he believed the campaign already had met the required number based on the signatures that the group had on hand and in the field. He said more than 4,000 supporters have been out collecting signatures.

The organization plans to work in the coming months to increase the number of Republicans supporting the effort, he said.

James said getting the amendment passed in the perennial presidential battleground state would require Republican backers of gay marriage to be just as engaged as Democrats.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, announced his support of same-sex marriage earlier this year after learning one of his sons is gay.

James said the group has had conversations with Portman on the amendment, and the senator has indicated he doesn't want to take a position as a campaign operative.

Petro said he has been surprised by the reluctance and hesitation of the GOP to support gay marriage.

"Because Republicans should be for freedom, they should be for equality and they should be supportive of the notion of commitment," he said.

Kasich, a Republican who faces re-election next year, opposes gay marriage and civil unions.

The 2004 amendment to ban gay marriage in Ohio has been credited with increasing turnout in the state's GOP-heavy south and west, helping George W. Bush win carry the pivotal state. It was supported by 62 percent of Ohio voters at the time.

Petro, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2006, opposed the amendment in 2004. He was the first statewide elected official at the time to come out against the ballot issue, saying it was too vague and could hurt the economy.

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