This is an ongoing series that began at Bears Left. This is part three and was originally published on May 18th. Further posts will be simultaneous.
Today I sat down with Chris Redfern, Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party to talk about the party's commitment to LGBT issues, and the involvement of the LGBT community in the party. It's plainly clear to me that Chairman Redfern has built on his 100% voting record when he was in the Legislature and carried those policies and beliefs to the party.
This conversation was prompted by an event held over the weekend to raise money from the LGBT Community for the re-election of Governor Strickland. Promoted by the Equality Ohio Campaign Fund, and called, "Making History, Ohio's LGBT Community Unites," the invitation to this high dollar event laid forth a seven point legislative agenda that re-electing Gov. Strickland would help accomplish. The idea that the LGBT community "Unites" at a cocktail party for one candidate for office that costs $250 at the minimum is naive at best and downright offensive at worst.
I'll hold commentary on that and why the idea of re-electing Gov. Strickland doesn't impact legislation, for another time. Let's focus on the seven issues and my conversation about them with Chris Redfern:
1. Passing Ohio's Equal Housing & Employment Act (EHEA)
2. A law allowing two-parent adoption for same-sex couples
3. Instituting a statewide Domestic Partnership Registry
4. Inclusion of sexual orientation into Ohio hate crimes law
5. Allowing transgender Ohioans to change the gender marker on their birth certificates
6. Redistricting the state to give LGBT candidates a better shot at winning elective offices
7. Domestic partner benefits for state employees
I began the conversation with Chairman Redfern by asking about this agenda. The party, he said, takes its lead on policy initiatives from Governor Strickland, and he hasn't sat down to talk about some of these ideas with the Governor. I asked if he had sat down with Equality Ohio and he informed me that, "I haven't spoken to Lynne Bowman or their Republican Lobbyist since I left the Legislature." Chairman Redfern has an open door, and I found it very easy to get time to discuss these policy initiatives with him. Why has Equality Ohio not engaged the leader of the party on their legislative agenda?
We did talk in depth about some of the legislative items. On passing EHEA, Chairman Redfern speculated that there are about 40 votes in the Ohio House that are for sure. There are 13 remaining Democrats that will need support. Presently there are 25 Democratic and 2 Republican Co-Sponsors. So, if the vote were held today, we can count on a loss with only 42 votes.
Even so, if Equality Ohio were to engage in the grass-roots work needed - knocking the doors, making the phone calls and providing real support - and it passed the house, it would not get out of the Republican controlled Senate and would never make it to the Governor's desk. "No doubt that it will sit in the Senate and die," Redfern said.
The problem here is that Equality Ohio doesn't engage in grassroots work any more than they appear to be engaging the party. We know from 2008 that volunteer and fund raising support is minimal at best. In a email to state leaders about Lobby Day and EHEA, Equality Ohio said, "We will need your assistance, I'm sure, with some of the folks who could be sway-able. We'd really like to see this pass out of committee with bipartisan support and more than just seven yeses."
No call to action, no directed efforts, no plan.
I asked about the party's involvement with the present effort to pass EHEA. Rep. Dan Stewart (D-Columbus) has been instrumental in building support for the bill. When pressed about the party itself Chairman Redfern explained that the party is committed to the passage of EHEA, but is not a lobbying or legislative body. While the LGBT Outreach Director had been working with Rep. Stewart, "James has too much work to do to be an unpaid lobbyist for Equality Ohio," Redfern said.
He's right. That's not the role of the party. That's the role of Equality Ohio and their staff, volunteers and supporters. That's the purpose of Lobby Day. It is the responsibility of grass-roots advocacy organizations like Equality Ohio to deliver legislative victories.
It is the party's responsibility to elect its members to office and to hold those members to the platform - one that includes LGBT Equality. In 2008 the ODP delivered in backing Ray Pryor when he was attacked with anti-gay mailers. The party, especially under the direction of Chairman Redfern has pulled their weight.
We talked about adoption, an issue that the Governor has made statements about, and Redfern reemphasized the party and the Governor's commitment to not eroding the rights of anyone any further. He did not speculate on the two-parent adoption legislation, again because he hasn't been approached on it.
Moving forward, in order to pass the state-wide Domestic Partner Registry, it would be necessary to repeal the Constitutional Amendment passed in 2004. "I don't see it as pragmatic in the foreseeable future to repeal the amendment, given the feelings in the state," said Redfern. He did add that the Democratic Party is supportive of a repeal, however.
I personally do not understand why Equality Ohio would spend a minute on a state level Domestic Partner registry. The second sentence of the constitutional provision 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." A DP Registry most certainly would approximate the design of marriage. First step - gather 418,408 valid signatures from 44 of the 88 counties to put the repeal on the ballot. Then, mount a grass roots campaign to pass it. Yes, back to grassroots again. Once that is won, Equality Ohio seeks to pass a DP registry - a measure that has no teeth, no outcome, and certainly no where near equal.
Did you miss that part of the year when four states picked up marriage equality, including Iowa? Why would the LGBT community work so hard for the crumbs of cake being cut in five other states?
Tomorrow I'll go through the rest of the interview with Chairman Redfern, a bit more about the weekend fundraiser, and why equal rights are not, "a great gift...from the Committee to the pro-equality community."