Thursday, February 5, 2004

Ban hurts retention, recruiting


The defense of marriage act passed Tuesday by the Ohio House is an unneeded law that will alienate good people from our state, make recruiting and retention harder for our businesses and foster a misperception that Ohio is a place of intolerance and discrimination. Governor Taft should not sign this bill.

The marriage contract is legal recognition of the fact that two people have committed their lives to each other. Prohibiting that recognition for gay couples won't weaken the bonds in such cases any more than extending it to gays weakens the commitment of heterosexual unions.

The House passed the law 77-22. It passed in the Senate last month and now goes to the governor. Taft has said he will sign it. He should reconsider. Ohio law has never recognized same-sex unions. That doesn't mean such pairings don't occur here, only that the state refuses to recognize them as marriage contracts with all the rights and responsibilities of heterosexual marriages. Private businesses are free to extend partnership benefits to unmarried couples of any sexual preference, and many do in Ohio.

The law would not restrict private companies from continuing to offer such benefits, nor will it keep such benefits from being negotiated as provisions of public employee union contracts. But it will bar any state employer, including the state universities, from offering partner benefits to unmarried couples, whether they are gay or heterosexual. This law would make Ohio only the second state, after Nebraska, to impose such a ban. It places one more unnecessary obstacle in the path of major state research universities, such as Ohio State and UC, when it comes to recruiting top research and teaching talent.

"We will lose some of our best and brightest employees if this bill is enacted," Ohio State President Nancy Holbrook said in a letter to the governor. Top people in their fields are likely to choose environments they feel are open and welcoming. With this law, Ohio closes a door.

Opponents of the law also worry that because the law declares same-sex marriages to be "against the strong public policy of this state," it may encourage lawsuits against private companies in Ohio that grant such benefits. Several companies that offer partner benefits to same-sex couples, such as Procter & Gamble, Federated Department Stores and NCR, lobbied against the bill.

Taft said last week the issue has been forced on the state by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which has said that Massachusetts cannot bar gay couples from civil marriage. Without a ban on such unions, Ohio might be forced to recognize the marriages of gay people who move to Ohio after being married in Massachusetts, the governor said. We disagree that such situations would pose much of a problem for Ohio. The opposite may be true. By refusing to recognize marriages sanctioned in other states, Ohio could open itself up to a host of related problems, such as how to treat parental rights granted in connection with such marriages if the parties relocate to Ohio.

Rather than strengthening the state of matrimony, this bill weakens the state of Ohio.

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