When it comes to the power and sway Ohio’s social conservatives hold in our state, especially the homophobic ones, a lot has changed in Ohio in the past nine years. The story of Phil Burress provides a good example.
Mr. Burress is a self-professed porn addict turned head of Citizens for Community Values, an organization that has crusaded against LGBT rights, pornography, and adult-oriented businesses in Cincinnati.
Remember when Ohio revised its laws regarding strip clubs a few years ago? That was Burress.
In 1993, during the apex of his political influence, Burress was part of the campaign to enact Article 12 to the Cincinnati City Charter that prohibited sexual orientation to be covered by the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances.
In 1997, Larry Flynt opened a Hustler Hollywood in downtown Cincinnati as Phil Burress protested on the sidelines, urging his local Republican allies to threaten Flynt with prosecution of pandering obscene materials.
In 1999, Burress’ crusuade got the Hamilton County Prosecutor to reach a plea deal with Flynt, where he wouldn’t go to prison for selling pornographic videos if he promised to stop selling them in Cincinnati.
Two years later, Phil Burress’ crusade hit a snag when juries in Hamilton County started acquitting the other shop owners Burress was targeting.
In 2004, Burress was a major voice to the campaign to amend Ohio’s constitution to prohibit recognizing or legally permitted same-sex marriages to performed in the State. It passed statewide with 61% of the vote, but in Cincinnati, 52.9% of voters rejected it. During the same election, 53.8% of Cincinnati voters voted to repeal the 1993 charter ban on including sexual orientation in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinances. At the time, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the huge change in voter attitudes on LGBT rights was the result of changing demographics in the most conservative areas of the city.
As Phil Burress celebrated his Statewide victory, his grip on his regional political base was slipping. By 2011, both Larry Flynt and his brother each had stores in downtown Cincinnati.
That same year, Governor Kasich took office and renewed the executive order issued by Governor Strickland to protect gay, lesbian, and bisexual state employees for discrimination by the State on the basis of their sexual orientation (Kasich discontinued Strickland’s willingness to apply the same protection to transgender employees.)
Earlier this week, Governor John Kasich was asked, in light of Republican Senator Rob Portman’s newfound support for gay marriage and the effort underway to put a repeal of the 2004 anti-marriage equality amendment on the ballot, where he stood. This is what Governor Kasich said:
Kasich was asked if he could imagine a situation that might cause him to change his position.
“I really can’t see one, I mean, I talked to Rob and encouraged him,” Kasich said. “If people want to have civil unions and have some way to transfer their resources, I’m for that. I don’t support gay marriage. ”
“I’ve got friends that are gay and I’ve told them ‘Look, (same sex marriage) is just not something I agree with’ and I’m not doing it out of a sense of anger or judgment, it’s just my opinion on this issue. ”
“I just think marriage is between a man and a woman, but if you want to have a civil union that’s fine with me,” Kasich said. (emphasis added)
As reports of Kasich’s seeming endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples began to circulate, Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols tried to walk the Governor’s comments back:
“The governor’s position is unchanged. He opposes gay marriage and opposes changing Ohio’s Constitution to allow for civil unions,” said Nichols. “He’s opposed to discrimination against any Ohioan and, while he may have used the term ‘civil union’ loosely in this instance, he recognizes the existing rights of Ohioans to enter into private contracts to manage their personal property and health care issues.”
Personally, I don’t buy Nichols spin. If my wife and I name someone to have power of attorney over us in case we’re incapacitated, I don’t think I’ve joined into a civil union with that person. I hope not at least because that’s another anniversary I’l have to remember!
Nichols no doubt was doing this to avoid the ire of folks like Phil Burress who has been blasting Portman for not taking his advice to enroll his son in gay conversion therapy… the kind that New Jersey is thinking of banning and Republican Governor Chris Christie says he personally doesn’t support.
It’s also worth noting that Nichols walk-back attempt comes just after a group of D-List social conservatives and Tea Party activists publicly issued a letter bemoaning the direction of the Ohio Republican Party. The letter cites Kasich’s sales and severance tax proposals as well as his expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare, but also hits Portman for his same-sex marriage announcement and even attacks soon-to-be Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges for working as a lobbyist with Equality Ohio, a ”liberal homosexual activist group”.
In choosing not to risk social conservatives’ ire, Nichols put Kasich on the wrong side of history, and apparently, the wrong side of current public opinion. Today, the Columbus Dispatch released a poll that shows 54% of Ohioans support a proposed constitutional amendment being pushed by Freedom Ohio that would repeal the 2004 ban on gay marriage.
As Luke pointed out earlier today, Ohio has gone from 60% in favor of banning gay marriage to over 50% in support of repealing that ban in just nine years for one reason: Demographics. Among 18-34 year old voters, the effort to repeal Ohio’s gay marriage ban enjoys support by a 73% to 24%, a forty-nine point margin. With voters 35-54, it still has a smaller 51% to 43% margin. Independents support it more than Democratic voters 64%/31% to 59%/34% (however, given the poll’s margin of error, it’s a statically insignificant difference.)
In other words, the only voters who support the gay marriage ban are older and predominately Republican voters, and they are, literally, dying out. To Rob Nichols, Phil Burress may still look like a political threat to Kasich, a lumbering political figure who dominates the political eco-system. But that’s because Nichols sees Burress for what he was.
If you stood in the presence of one, a living dinosaur would be a terrifying sight. That’s which Nichols sees. To the rest of us, Phil Burress is a nearly-extinct Jurassic-era animal. Yes, he once dominated the political landscape, but he’s been unable to adapt and thrive as the political environment changed around him.
John Kasich had a choice this week, and he bet on the dinosaurs. It’s the same political demographic miscalculation Mitt Romney made.