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Published: Saturday, 2/7/2004

Taft signs measure banning same-sex marriage

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Despite appeals from gay-rights activists to use his veto power, Gov. Bob Taft yesterday signed a bill into law that critics say is among the nation s most sweeping bans on gay marriage.

But Mr. Taft said, “First and foremost, this is not a law of intolerance.”

In making Ohio the 38th state that has approved an anti-gay marriage law, Mr. Taft struck a rare defiant tone as he referred to Wednesday s ruling by the highest state court in Massachusetts.

In a 4-3 decision, that court said only gay marriage - not same-sex civil unions - would comply with its decision last year that said gay couples have the constitutional right to marry.

“Four judges in another state should not, and cannot, hold the power to redefine marriage in Ohio,” Mr. Taft said in a written statement.

“Rather, it is for citizens of Ohio, through our elected representatives and after extensive public and legislative debate, to determine our laws and ... to define our fundamental institutions,” the governor added.

Mr. Taft s signing of the anti-gay marriage bill and his two-page written statement followed seven years of legislative lobbying by groups including the Christian Coalition.

“It s a great day for Ohio and Ohio s families,” said Chris Long, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Ohio. “It will go a long way toward strengthening Ohio families and making Ohio a family-friendly state.”

Linda Harvey, president of Columbus-based Mission America, said the new law would help empower parents who don t want their children taught in public schools that homosexual marriage is the same as heterosexual marriage.

Gay-rights activists said Mr. Taft s decision was an act of discrimination against gays and lesbians and said it would damage Ohio s economy.

“It s a sad day for Ohio,” said Dave Schultz, a spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans of Northwest Ohio, a gay and lesbian group. “Eventually, this law will be overturned and it will be looked unfavorably upon in history.”

“What Mr. Taft is suggesting is that same-sex couples are not full citizens in Ohio,” said Tim Downing, a Cleveland attorney and spokesman for a coalition that fought the bill. “It is insulting and shameful.”

Although Ohio law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman, the U.S. Constitution says courts are obligated to give “full faith and credit” to decrees and acts of other states unless they violate a “strong public policy.”

Without Ohio joining the other 37 states that have made that declaration, gay couples could go to Canada, Vermont, or Massachusetts starting May 17, and then return to Ohio and claim the benefits of marriage, state Rep. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati) said.

Gay-rights groups initially said the law would restrict unmarried couples - heterosexual and homosexual - from receiving “domestic partner” benefits such as health and life insurance, pensions, and profit sharing. They later shifted their focus to state employees and university employees being deprived of those benefits.

Mr. Taft said the claim was among several that “have been misunderstood and inaccurately portrayed in the media.”

The governor said the new law, which takes effect in 90 days, would not prevent companies and local governments from offering domestic partner benefits and would allow state and university workers - either union or nonunion - to negotiate for those benefits.

The new law would only prohibit state government from providing the “specific statutory benefits of a legal marriage” to unmarried couples, such as interest in a spouse s estate, Mr. Taft said.

Mr. Downing and other gay-rights activists said they expect numerous legal challenges.

For example, if a same-sex couple who has adopted a child in another state comes to Ohio and their child is ill and must be rushed to a hospital.

“The staff could say, We do not recognize this court order from another state. The child then is left without parents and becomes a ward of the state,” Mr. Downing said.

Mr. Taft said as the nation protects “our most sacred institution, we must not lose sight of our most sacred 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 the test and sets an appropriate balance: it reinforces the importance of traditional marriage within our society but it also allows for the public and private provisions of benefits to persons within nontraditional relationships,” Mr. Taft said.



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