CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Gay rights supporters in Ohio were given the go-ahead on Tuesday to begin gathering signatures to put a proposed state constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriage legal before voters as soon as November.
Ohio banned gay marriage by state constitutional amendment in 2004 and does not recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states.
The amendment language certified Tuesday by the Ohio Ballot Board proposes to make legal all marriages between consenting adults regardless of gender and provides that all legally valid marriages shall be treated equally under the law.
The proposed amendment from FreedomOhio also provides that "no religious house of worship or its clergy shall be required to perform a marriage."
Ohio adopted its ban on gay marriage by a 62 percent to 38 percent vote in 2004, but in the past decade same-sex marriage has become legal in 17 states plus the District of Columbia. The number would increase substantially if federal court rulings striking down bans in several states are upheld on appeal.
A Quinnipiac University poll in February found that 50 percent of registered Ohio voters polled favored allowing same-sex marriage in Ohio and 44 percent were opposed. The poll of 1,370 registered voters had a 2.7 percent margin of error.
A federal judge has ordered Ohio to recognize the legal marriages of gay couples wed legally outside the state, but put his ruling on hold pending appeal for all but a handful of couples who challenged the ban.
Supporters must collect 385,247 signatures to put the question before Ohio voters, which is equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast in the governor's election in 2010.
The signatures also must be collected from at least half of Ohio's 88 counties with at least 5 percent of the total vote cast for governor in each of those counties. The deadline for submitting signatures is 125 days before the November election.
Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by David Bailey and Lisa Shumaker