Buried in a newly-passed Ohio bill stripping the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions is language that could curtail benefits for unmarried domestic couples who work for the state, regardless of sexual orientation.
The provision appears just below language forcefully restating the same-sex marriage ban in the state, an apparent legal formality for legislation amending existing Ohio code.
Section 3101.01 of the GOP-led bill states that a “marriage may only be entered into by one man and one woman… Any marriage between persons of the same sex is against the strong public policy of this state.”
It adds: “The recognition or extension by the state of the specific statutory benefits of a legal marriage to nonmarital relationships between persons of the same sex or different sexes is against the strong public policy of this state. Any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of this state, as defined in section 9.82 of the Revised Code, that extends the specific statutory benefits of legal marriage to nonmarital relationships between persons of the same sex or different sexes is void ab initio.”
Ed Mullen, the executive director of Equality Ohio, told Raw Story that the provision effectively strips protections on benefits for unmarried couples who are living together. He also argued it would disproportionately harm same-sex couples.
“Some state workers, such as Ohio state employees and state university employees, could receive domestic partner benefits if they are offered to all unmarried couples regardless of sexual orientation,” Mullen said in an e-mail, noting as an example that some state universities offer domestic partner benefits already.
And while the language does not directly target same-sex couples, Mullen said it would have “a disproportionate impact on gay and lesbian couples” as they “cannot get married or obtain any other legal recognition of their relationships that would entitle us to equal health benefits.”
“Plus, empirically gay and lesbian couples use domestic partner benefits at a greater rate than opposite sex couples,” he said.
Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich, who championed the measure, did not respond to a request for comment.
The controversial legislation was approved Wednesday by the Republican-led Ohio Senate by a vote of 17 to 16. Six Republicans voted against it, according to the New York Times. It is expected to pass in the House and be signed into law next week.
It significantly weakens the ability of public employee unions to collectively bargain for benefits and pensions, an issue that has earned widespread national attention as a result of a weeks-long standoff in Wisconsin over a similar measure.
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