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Published: Thursday, 10/7/2004

Voinovich, DeWine reject amendment to ban gay unions

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Saying they oppose same-sex marriage but believe the wording of a ballot issue is unclear, Ohio's two Republican U.S. Senators said yesterday they oppose a state constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot that would prohibit such unions.

Mike DeWine and George Voinovich believe the second sentence of Issue 1 is "vague, ambiguous, and raises a thicket of questions," their press secretaries said.

Issue 1 states: "Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions."

Aides to Senators DeWine and Voinovich said they would vote for Issue 1 if it was limited to the first sentence.

The second sentence reads: "This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage."

"The second sentence causes Senator DeWine concern," said Mike Dawson, Mr. DeWine's communications director.

"The second sentence is vague and ambiguous. He thinks that potentially could hurt Ohio's competitiveness if our universities, for example, were not allowed to provide benefits."

If voters approve Issue 1, governments would be barred from providing domestic partner benefits to unmarried couples - heterosexual and homosexual. Opponents say legal challenges could prevent companies from offering those benefits too - a charge that supporters deny.

"What impact would it have on organizations that receive state funds, such as public - or even private - universities," asked Scott Milburn, Senator Voinovich's press secretary.

"And if it aims at trying to make government interfere with the decisions that private companies make about compensation and benefits, then [Mr. Voinovich] thinks it causes more problems than it solves."

Phil Burress, of the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, which supports Issue 1, said he was not surprised by the announcements from Senators DeWine and Voinovich.

"They have been drinking far too much Washington, D.C., water," Mr. Burress said.

"The longer they stay in office, the farther left they lean," Mr. Burress said.

Senator Voinovich's opponent, Democratic state Sen. Eric Fingerhut of Cleveland, also is against Issue 1.

Mr. Burress said the second sentence of the proposed constitutional amendment is clear, designed to prevent government from using another phrase such as "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships" to allow unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians, to receive the benefits of marriage.

"It says, 'This state and its political subdivisions.' How can anyone construe that to mean private industry? The second sentence is as much about marriage as the first," Mr. Burress said.

Mr. Dawson said Senator DeWine voted in favor of a federal law to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Senator Voinovich was not in the Senate then.

On July 14, Senators DeWine and Voinovich voted "yes" to advance a proposed federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The effort failed when supporters fell 12 votes short of the 60 needed to advance the measure.

Ian James, political director of Ohioans to Protect the Constitution, which opposes Issue 1, said opposition from Senators DeWine and Voinovich could transform the outcome next month.

Polls published by The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and The Columbus Dispatch on Sept. 20 and Oct. 4 respectively showed more than 2 to 1 support for Issue 1.

"This is showing the strong bipartisan and nonpartisan support necessary to stop this radical measure from ever making its way into the Constitution," Mr. James said.

Contact James Drew at

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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