Saturday, October 9, 2004

Partner benefits could be curtailed

State universities watch Issue 1 vote

By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

Election 2004 page
COLUMBUS - Although state Issue 1 is often referred to as the "gay marriage amendment,'' its immediate impact may be more on the ability of public entities to offer domestic partner benefits, say those concerned with the Nov. 2 ballot measure.

The proposed amendment would place into the constitution a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

That's already the case under Ohio's current anti-gay marriage law, on top of a similar federal law. Each law also says Ohio doesn't have to recognize gay marriages performed in states such as Massachusetts.

The second sentence of the Ohio amendment forbids a legal status for unmarried individuals "that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage."

"I have a hard time knowing what that means," said Chris Bryant, associate law professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Some say that language is misleading.

"Issue 1 is being sold to the public in the state of Ohio as though all it does is (ban gay marriage)," said Marc Spindelman, assistant law professor at Ohio State University. "That's misleading in the sense that the amendment goes a good deal further."

Phil Burress, the Cincinnati activist who is leading the charge to pass Issue 1, said the amendment is necessary to ensure no judge can order the state to recognize a same-sex marriage.

Burress agrees the amendment will end domestic partner benefits offered by four state universities, regardless of whether couples are gay.

"The term 'domestic partner' is marriage by a different name," he said.

He said the amendment will not have any impact on private businesses or individual contracts, as some suggest. He said concerns about an adverse economic impact are "fictional."

"There is not one shred of evidence this is going to hurt Ohio's economy," he said. "Just because someone says something doesn't make it true."

Ohio is one of 11 states, including Kentucky, with an amendment on the November ballot dealing with gay marriage.

Two others - Missouri and Louisiana - passed amendments this year by overwhelming margins, although a state judge in Louisiana has already ruled that state's amendment unconstitutional.

The amendments are in response to a recent court decision allowing gay couples to marry in Massechusetts, and a law allowing civil unions in Vermont.

A number of public opinion polls show strong support for the amendment in Ohio.

Dan Bain, 23, of Cincinnati, shopping at Sycamore Plaza in Kenwood, called the amendment "kind of wordy."

"This just continues the ban, doesn't it? That's what it looks like to me."

Roger Mitchell, 47, of Cincinnati said if the amendment impacts heterosexual unmarried couples, too, that's OK with him.

"People who are single and live together with children, there's no commitment to stay together," he said. "If they split up, then you have a broken family."

Cindy Hermesch, 51, of Sycamore Township, said it's better to allow couples to marry.

"People just living together is more of a threat to marriage," she said. "I don't feel threatened by gay people getting married."

Alan Melamed, chairman of a coalition formed to defeat Issue 1, said his group has more than $1.5 million to spend on television ads.

"We know that if we can get our message out ... we're going to be able to turn this very quickly," Melamed said.

Some of the opposition to the amendment comes from elected Republicans who say they oppose gay marriage.

U.S. Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich have come out against the amendment, concerned about its vagueness and economic impact.

Attorney General Jim Petro said Issue 1 "will limit the rights of private companies and public institutions to offer benefits to certain groups of people."

He added: "Additionally, its vague language will spark endless lawsuits that will cost taxpayers money."

The AARP said Issue 1 would deny unmarried older couples a variety of vital rights, including inheritance and power of attorney. The League of Women Voters of Ohio said the amendment would "legitimize discrimination in the Ohio Constitution."

Karen Holbrook, president of Ohio State University, which offers domestic partner benefits, called it "harmful to our institution's ability to remain competitive with other employers and institutions of higher learning."

Firing back at those who oppose the amendment, Burress called Petro a "pro-homosexual activist." He calls OSU and the League of Women Voters "left-wing social activists."

"The people who run the AARP must be senile," he added.

Petro's potential GOP rivals for governor in 2006 - Auditor Betty Montgomery and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell - support Issue 1. Ohio's Catholic bishops also have stated their support.

As for business, New Albany-based Limited Brands Inc. opposes Issue 1. But other companies are staying out of the debate, including Procter & Gamble Co., which has been offering domestic partner benefits since January 2002.

The company is facing a boycott from some groups for supporting the repeal of Article XII, which prohibits Cincinnati from passing gay-rights laws. Company spokesman Doug Shelton said the city article is detrimental to the local economy. Shelton said the company would not take a stance on gay marriage.


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