Saturday, October 9, 2004

Wording of Ohio's gay-marriage ban called sweeping



By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

ELECTION SECTION
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COLUMBUS - Ohio's proposed amendment banning gay marriage is a little broader in scope than most proposals in 12 other states, according to several legal experts.

"We're not alone in going this far," said Marc Spindelman, assistant law professor at the Ohio State University. "But I don't think that should be reassuring to anybody."

Three legal experts said the language of Issue 1 is broad and vague. And although the language refers only to "state and political subdivisions," they believe it could reach beyond a governmental impact.

"This has the potential to be extremely broad, but we don't know how it will be interpreted until it is challenged," said Mark Strasser, law professor at Capital University.

He and others noted some potential legal ramifications:

• Ending domestic partnership benefits offered by private companies. Attorney General Jim Petro believes that if Issue 1 passes, the threat of lawsuits could pressure companies into ending benefits for unmarried couples.

Spindelman also wonders if a company can offer domestic partner benefits if it is contracted by the state. "Can the state hire them without sanctioning that company's policy?"

Chris Bryant, associate law professor at the University of Cincinnati, called it a "gray area." He said the amendment also leaves the door open for the state to require that anyone doing business with Ohio not offer domestic partner benefits.

Strasser also noted that even if companies keep offering domestic partner benefits, courts cannot grant any legal status to anything that "approximates" marriage.

The benefits "might not be an enticing offer because they may not be enforceable in court," he said.

• Loss of certain rights for unmarried couples, such as property rights, power of attorney, hospital visitation and inheritance.

These have been a particular concerns raised by the AARP, and Bryant called them "very legitimate concerns."

"It's not clear, say, if power of attorney will be invalidated under this, but it seems to me to at least be plausible," he said. Questions over visitation rights could be raised, particularly in state-run hospitals, he said.

Not everyone agrees.

George Dent, law professor at Case Western Reserve University, doesn't see Ohio's proposal as going further than most other states, nor does he believe it will impact private businesses.

"If an employer wants to include same-sex benefits under its health plan, there's nothing here that stops it," he said.

E-mail jsiegel@enquirer.com




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