By Bob Taft
Governor of Ohio
On Friday, I signed into law Ohio's Defense of Marriage Act. Because the effects of this Act have been so widely misunderstood and inaccurately portrayed, 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 toward homosexuals or homosexuality. I do not endorse, nor does this law provide for, discrimination against anyone. The singular purpose of the act is to reaffirm existing Ohio law with respect to our most basic, rooted and time-honored institution: marriage between a man and a woman. At a time when parents and families are under constant attack within our social culture, it is important to protect those environments that offer our children, and ultimately our society, the best opportunity to thrive.
It is necessary for us to take these protective actions now because four members of the Massachusetts Supreme Court have redefined marriage in that state. As a result of their actions, Ohio could have same-sex couples that 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 the 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. Instead, we join the federal government and 37 other states that have enacted their own Defense of Marriage laws.
But even as this Act reaffirms Ohio's marriage laws, it does not diminish benefits or rights currently enjoyed by non-married domestic partners in our state. Private sector employers, local governments, state-supported universities, and even state government may offer domestic partner benefits. Churches in Ohio remain free to perform civil union ceremonies. And unmarried Ohioans remain free to adopt, give a power of attorney, inherit property by will, assume child custody, or visit a loved one in the hospital.
The act does prohibit unmarried persons from receiving "specific statutory benefits" that accrue to married persons under Ohio law. Therefore, it prohibits a domestic partner from receiving benefits that accrue to a "spouse," "husband," or "wife" under Ohio law, including a dower interest in a spouse's estate, inheritance under the law of interstate succession, testimonial privilege, and the right to support and maintenance.
I am well aware that, 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. Ohio's 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.
Bob Taft is governor of Ohio.
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