The Ohio senate has approved one of the most far-reaching gay marriage bans in the nation despite charges from some lawmakers that the legislation is mean-spirited and discriminatory. A divided senate approved the bill 18-15 on Wednesday and sent it back to the house, which is expected to approve it with minor changes next week. Gov. Bob Taft has said he will sign the bill. The measure says same-sex marriages are "against the strong public policy of the state" and would prohibit unmarried state employees from getting benefits for their domestic partners, whether the couples are same-sex or opposite-sex. Exemptions to the benefits ban would be allowed for cities, villages, townships, schools, and private companies; universities, however, are included in the ban.
Senate minority leader Gregory DiDonato, a Democrat, said the bill is mean-spirited and "just plain wrong." Sen. C.J. Prentiss, also a Democrat, quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech as she called the bill "good, old-fashioned discrimination." But Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Republican and longtime supporter of a ban on same-sex marriage, said that opponents are misstating the bill's intentions. He said the bill is not an attack on gays but is meant to protect a traditional definition of marriage. "This is solely and clearly clarifying and protecting the definition of marriage between one man and one woman," Hottinger said.
Lawmakers have struggled with the issue for seven years, beginning when Hottinger, then a state representative, introduced the bill in the house. Republican representative Bill Seitz sponsored the current bill and told the committee that a ruling in Massachusetts declaring that state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional could affect Ohio. Thirty-seven states have passed laws recognizing marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But Ohio's measure is particularly restrictive because of the benefits ban, said Seth Kilbourn, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay and lesbian lobbying group. Nebraska has a similar ban.