Spreading Cincinnati's Intolerance Statewide

There was a time when Cincinnati's morality police were content to defend the walls of the city against sex and sin. In the mid-1970s Charles H. Keating Jr. -- a Cincinnati banker who would later b

There was a time when Cincinnati's morality police were content to defend the walls of the city against sex and sin.

In the mid-1970s Charles H. Keating Jr. — a Cincinnati banker who would later be convicted of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy — and then-Hamilton County Prosecutor Simon Leis Jr. led the charge to prosecute Larry Flynt for obscenity.

In 1990 Leis — sheriff by this point — went after the Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie, for exhibiting Robert Mapplethorpe's The Perfect Moment.

More recently, in 1993 Cincinnati attorney David Langdon was the driving force behind Issue 3, a successful ballot initiative that explicitly prohibited city lawmakers from passing any measures that guaranteed equal rights for homosexuals.

Cincinnati's morality police have been successful in protecting the city from even a whiff of sexuality, according to Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a Sharonville-based group whose stated goal is to "oppose legislation that is harmful to those Judeo-Christian moral values upon which this country was founded." The group's Web site brags that 95 percent of the stores selling magazines in Cincinnati do not sell soft "Playboy-type" pornography, that 95 percent of video rental stores do not rent X-rated videos and that no peep shows, X-rated theaters, massage parlors or strip bars operate in the city or in Hamilton County.

Perhaps satisfied with their work at home, Cincinnati's conservative activists have recently become exporters of their moral beliefs. In May, House Bill 272, widely known as the Defense of Marriage Act, became law in Ohio. This law not only defines marriage as being between one man and one woman but also prohibits state employees' domestic partners from receiving health care and other employer-provided benefits. Langdon was influential in the drafting and passage of H.B. 272, and he also filed the first lawsuit using the new law.

The unsuccessful suit would have dismantled the domestic partner registry of Cleveland Heights.

Additionally, the Cincinnati-based Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage (OCPM) led the effort to place on the Nov. 2 ballot a statewide initiative that, if passed, will amend the Ohio Constitution to include provisions similar to House Bill 272. The chairman of OCPM is Phil Burress, who also serves as president of CCV. Langdon's law firm represents OCPM, and both OCPM and CCV are headquartered in Langdon's Reading Road office. The driving force behind both the anti-homosexual H.B. 272 and the proposed anti-homosexual constitutional amendment are Cincinnatians Burress, Langdon and Jeffrey Shafer, Langdon's law partner.

But why are these activists pushing both a law and a constitutional amendment that contain nearly the same provisions? Conservative groups are often frustrated when the laws they support — prayer in public school, restrictions on abortion, the criminalization of homosexuality, etc. — are struck down as unconstitutional. The Ohio Supreme Court could strike down H.B. 272, but a constitutional amendment renders these anti-gay provisions unassailable power at the state level.

Although proponents of the proposed amendment put forth numerous sociological arguments for walling off "traditional" marriage from homosexuals, it's clear that the underlying reason for the amendment is bigotry and hatred. One supposed argument for excluding homosexuals from marriage is that, if anyone can get married, then marriage will lose its meaning in our society.

But if two men get married to each other or two women enter into marriage, how is the commitment that my wife and I made to each other affected? How does the sexual orientation of other couples affect our marriage? It doesn't. Our relationship is unaltered, as is that of every other couple in the country.

American heterosexuals have done everything in their power to make a mockery of marriage, evidenced by the fact that we have the highest divorce rate in the world, yet the quality of the commitment in each marriage stands on its own.

Another argument made by those who wish to keep marriage — and the rights and benefits it automatically bestows — a heterosexual-only privilege is that marriage should be tied to reproduction. Because homosexuals cannot naturally have children, this argument goes, they shouldn't be allowed to marry. Yet two heterosexuals who can't have children, either due to physical problems or voluntary sterilization, can legally be married.

There's not a single argument against gay marriage that cannot be similarly stripped away to reveal that the true reason for opposing the legal marriage of two homosexuals is bigotry and hatred.

Many of Ohio's elected officials — including Gov. Bob Taft, Attorney General Jim Petro, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and U.S. senators George Voinovich and Mike DeWine — embrace this discrimination, agreeing that marriage should be statutorily and constitutionally defined as the union of one man and one woman. However, Petro, Voinovich and DeWine have all publicly stated that the proposed amendment goes too far because of its second and final sentence, which reads, "This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

That sentence makes Ohio's proposed amendment the most restrictive of any of the 11 proposed "defense of marriage" amendments appearing on ballots around the country, including that of Kentucky, also up for a vote in November. It prohibits the recognition of any type of civil union or domestic partner relationship by the state or any governmental entity in the state, including colleges and universities. This includes all non-marital cohabitational relationships between heterosexuals. No other state so explicitly precludes the provision of benefits to those in other such unions.

Greater Cincinnati has earned a reputation as a hyper-conservative, self-righteous bully that squelches all those who dare to disagree with it. Due to many of the same people who are responsible for building this reputation, Ohio might be about to acquire a similar label.

The state is bleeding jobs and population, and its young people are leaving at a faster rate than that of any other state. Yet Langdon and Burress are giving corporations and individuals yet another reason to locate elsewhere. Makes you proud to be from Cincinnati, right?

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