- Gay marriage is coming -- and geography favors Ohio.
The scene: Bob Taft leans over the rail of a Cincinnati riverboat, looking like a middle school science teacher who has trouble controlling his class. He's pretending to be awed by the natural wonders before him, which largely consist of abandoned buildings and water the hue of inexpensive hot chocolate. Children, color-coordinated for multicultural variety, gather around him, making rabbit ears above Bob's head.
Taft (looking warmly into the camera): Hi, I'm Bob Taft, governor of the Great State of Ohio. This summer, we invite you to visit this bountiful land at The Heart Of It All. From our majestic coal plants in the east to our pool-table-flat weedfields in the west, Ohio is waiting for you. Enjoy the thrill of being accidentally shot by a Cincinnati cop. Stroll the enchanting sidewalks of Columbus and imagine you're in Des Moines. Swim the cool, tempting waters of Lake Erie, with their unique concentration of fecal matter. Yes, this summer, Come Discover Ohio. Please? I mean, Christ, we paid a consultant 100 grand to think up that "Come Discover" line. The least you could do is show up.
Closing scene: Camera pulls back; Bon Jovi's "It's My Life" plays in background. Taft returns to gazing rapturously at abandoned buildings. Kids throw discarded paper cups at the back of his head.
Director: Cut! That was fabulous, Governor! I'm thinking Jason Alexander meets Billy Bob Thornton, only without the charisma. But a thought just occurred to me. For an extra $500,000, we could edit out the multicultural children and show more footage of you. Maybe include some home movies, some 8-millimeter clips from your college years . . .
Traditionally, this is how Ohio has marketed herself. It hasn't worked -- beyond providing the governor with free campaign ads. Perhaps it's because people tend to visit the industrial heartland only when they're delinquent on their child-support payments in other states. Perhaps God just hates us.
But there is a better way to lure people to Ohio, festive people with mighty wallets. It will cost us no money -- no $700 million levy, no greasing of downtown developers' hands. All it will take is one piece of paper, preferably a tasteful parchment.
It shall read: "Ohio hereby legalizes gay and lesbian marriage."
Only two states allow such vows. Hawaii grants full marital rights. Vermont has something called "civil unions." But Hawaii is too expensive to reach, since it's practically a suburb of Japan. Vermont is too small to find on a map. Couples frequently end up trying to get married in Rhode Island by mistake.
All of which leaves Ohio geographically positioned to capture the People-In-Committed-Relationships-Who-Are-Having-A-Hard-Time-Finding-A-State-That-Doesn't-Hate-Them-To-Get-Hitched-In market.
Let us dispense with the usual questions of morality. After all, there are far more pressing matters at hand: namely, money, that wallet-sized nectar of life.
The gay travel industry is estimated to be about $50 billion a year. Fort Lauderdale, which has long courted gay tourists, believes that its share alone registers at 550,000 visitors annually.
Okay, so such stats may seem inflated. What do they do? Count every well-groomed guy with his shirt tucked in who arrives at the Fort Lauderdale airport?
Yet even after sawing the numbers in half, it remains a fetching market. Which is why Miami, Philadelphia, and Atlanta all have programs specifically targeting gay tourists.
Cleveland, of course, can't compete with any of these cities for tourism. We've spent the last century perfecting the manufacture of steel and automobiles -- not the flair of our poolside cocktail service. We've also pretty much torched our entire bouquet of natural resources. But we can become the destination for gay weddings.
When Connecticut considered a civil union law, its Office of Fiscal Analysis determined that passage would mean an added 8,000 visitors to the state, with a spending boost of $10 million. For Ohio, that's an oh-so-easy score. Think about it: We're centrally located, with easy air access. We have all the bars, restaurants, and hotels newlyweds need. Better yet, there's virtually no competition. Marketing slogan: "Come Discover Your Life Partner in Cleveland. Do You Really Have Another Choice?"
Alas, there are obstacles to this can't-lose proposition. Tradition dictates that we remain 20 years behind any economic curve, which is why we're jumping into lakefront development and the convention business decades after they became the rage. Plus, allowing homos to engage in marital bliss, just like decent Americans, runs contrary to our manly redneck ways. When state Representative Jim Trakas (R-Independence) polled his district last year, he found that 94 percent of his constituents were against gay marriage. "I think that would be a pretty tough sell," he says.
So does City Councilman Joe Cimperman. He likes the idea, but he doesn't like the politics of making it happen, pointing to the difficulty Cleveland Heights and Lakewood have had with even minor gay initiatives. "To boom, just declare this, without building the right network, would do more harm than good. It might make a few headlines, but I don't think it would push the cause any further."
Then again, such fears may be irrelevant. So says state Representative Tim Grendell (R-Chester Township). He points to the U.S. Supreme Court's recent stomping of Texas's sodomy law as a sign that the days of legal discrimination against gays are over. Though he's one of the Assembly's most conservative members -- and a former sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act -- he's now willing to reexamine the issue. "I would be interested in looking at the numbers," he says.
The evolution of Tim Grendell is not unusual. It's American tradition to discriminate against everyone until they're strong enough to fight back. We did it to the Irish, Italians, Japanese, and Germans; we did it to Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and blacks.
But it's also American tradition to discover at some point that "hey, we're looking like assholes over here; we're embarrassing ourselves." And then go find someone new to haze.
Which means gay marriage will inevitably come. The only question for Ohio is whether we'll assume our customary place at the back of the line, kicking and screaming all the way. Or whether for once we'll jump out in front of the game -- and collect the money that's always awarded to him who sees the future first.