Friday, February 6, 2004

Gov. Taft's statement regarding Ohio's Defense of Marriage Act



Today, Governor Bob Taft issued the following statement concerning House Bill 272, Ohio's Defense of Marriage Act:

"I signed House Bill (HB) 272, the Defense of Marriage Act, into law today. Because the effects of this Act have been misunderstood and inaccurately portrayed in the media, it is important for me to state my reasons and to explain what the Act does and does not do.

"First and foremost, this is not a law of intolerance. I do not endorse, nor does this law provide for, discrimination against any Ohio citizen. The singular purpose of HB 272 is to reaffirm existing Ohio law with respect to our most basic, rooted, and time-honored institution: marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage is an essential building block of our society, an institution we must reaffirm. At a time when parents and families are under constant attack within our social culture, it is important to confirm and protect those environments that offer our children, and ultimately our society, the best opportunity to thrive. One child welfare organization has concluded that "research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents." (Moore, Kristin A., Jekielek, S.M., Emig, C., "Marriage from a Child's Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do About It?" Child Trends Research Brief, June 2002, p. 6).

"It is necessary for us to act now to safeguard Ohio's marriage laws because the Massachusetts Supreme Court, by a 4-3 vote, redefined marriage in that state, holding that a denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a violation of the Massachusetts Constitution. Just this week, that court affirmed its decision, requiring the Massachusetts legislature to allow "marriages," not civil unions, between same-sex partners. As a result, Ohio could have same-sex couples who were "married" in Massachusetts taking legal action in Ohio to recognize that marriage and to obtain the resulting benefits.

"Four judges in another state should not, and cannot, hold the power to redefine marriage in Ohio. Rather, it is for citizens of Ohio, through our elected representatives and after extensive public and legislative debate, to determine our laws and, here, to define our fundamental institutions. In this resolve, we are not alone. Thirty-seven states have already enacted Defense of Marriage Acts. And the federal government enacted the Federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 to make it clear that federal law would not prohibit states from enforcing their own Defense of Marriage laws.

"Even as HB 272 reaffirms Ohio's marriage laws, it does nothing to diminish benefits or rights currently enjoyed by non-married domestic partners in our state. Specifically:

The bill allows private sector employers to provide domestic partner benefits. In fact, it explicitly exempts private agreements from its requirements;
The bill allows local governments to provide domestic partner benefits or to establish a domestic partner registry;
The bill allows state universities—whether unionized or not—to provide domestic partner benefits. Under R.C. 124.14(F), the boards of trustees of state-supported colleges and universities have the discretion to decide to whom they will offer benefits;
The bill allows state workers in collective bargaining units to receive domestic partner benefits if they are provided for in negotiated labor agreements;
The bill does not prohibit state workers exempt from the bargaining unit from receiving domestic partner benefits;
The bill maintains the freedom of churches to perform and sanctify civil unions between same-sex couples; and
The bill maintains current Ohio laws that allow non-married persons to adopt, give a power of attorney, inherit property by will, assume child custody or guardianship, or visit someone in the hospital.

"One source of confusion about the effect of HB 272 may arise from its denial to other relationships those 'specific statutory benefits' that accrue to married couples under Ohio law. It is important to understand that this language is limited to benefits specifically provided only to a "spouse," "husband," or "wife" under Ohio law such as a dower interest in a spouse's estate, inheritance under the law of intestate succession, testimonial privilege, and the right to support and maintenance. The denial of specific statutory benefits does not apply to the kind of domestic partner benefits provided by an employer to an employee described above.

"Finally, as we take these actions to ensure the protection of our most sacred institution, we must not lose sight of our most sacred democratic ideals. As the public debate on this question continues in Ohio and across the country, it is important that our message be one of tolerance, free of prejudice. This new law meets that test and sets an appropriate balance: it reinforces the importance of traditional marriage within our society, but also allows for the public and private provision of benefits to persons within non-traditional relationships. For these reasons, I signed HB 272 into law today."




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