Ohio businesses troubled by "super DOMA"
January 24 2004 1:00 AM ET
Some Ohio businesses are worried that one of the country's most-far reaching gay marriage bans could hurt their bottom line. "There's some general concern about what it will mean from a competitiveness
standpoint," Linda Woggon, vice president of governmental affairs for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday. Companies want to know the impact of lawsuits that might use the ban to challenge domestic-partner benefits offered by businesses, she said. Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill after the house approves it with minor changes next week. The bill, passed 18-15 on Wednesday by the GOP-controlled Ohio senate, puts into law that same-sex marriages would be "against the strong public policy of the state." The bill also prohibits state employees from getting marital benefits spelled out in state law for their unmarried partners, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
Dayton-based NCR Corp. told lawmakers the ban could hurt the company's ability to recruit and keep employees. Ohio State University lobbyists tried unsuccessfully to persuade Republicans to exempt universities from the benefits ban before Wednesday's vote. The university is already getting calls about the ban from faculty members it is trying to recruit, said Larry Lewellen, Ohio State's human resources director. "We have to be able to offer any benefits that private employers and private universities would offer to their faculty and staff," he said. Ohio State, with about 18,000 employees, offers limited benefits for domestic partners, such as access to child care services, but not medical or dental benefits.
Susan McManus, marketing director for Nationwide Insurance, twice testified that the ban could lead to lawsuits challenging the rights of private businesses to offer domestic-partner benefits. "Given how many companies have domestic-partner benefits, to enact a law that would possibly put them at risk for legal challenges is very disturbing," McManus said in an interview Thursday. She emphasized that she was speaking as an individual and not on behalf on Nationwide. Ted Adams, a lobbyist for Columbus-based Limited Brands Inc., called Sen. Steve Stivers on Wednesday morning with concerns about the bill's effect on hiring. Stivers, a Columbus Republican, broke party ranks to oppose the bill. "If we are going to make a broad public policy statement, they had a problem with that," he said.
NCR Corp., Nationwide, and Limited Brands all offer benefits to same-sex partners of company employees. The three businesses employ more than 28,000 people in Ohio and more than 145,000 nationally. Thirty-seven states have passed laws recognizing only opposite-sex marriages. But Ohio's bill is particularly restrictive because of the benefits ban. Bill supporter Sen. Jim Jordan, an Urbana Republican, said Thursday he believes the ban won't affect business. "It's private sector. They can do anything they want," Jordan said. "We're talking about the policy of the state and how it relates to the public sector." Nationwide doesn't believe the ban will affect it and will continue to offer its household-members benefits package, said spokeswoman Deanna Biros. Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores, which offers domestic-partner benefits, also doesn't believe the ban will have an impact, spokeswoman Carol Sanger said Thursday. That's in part because the law excludes private businesses and in part because only 8,000 of the company's 120,000 employees work in Ohio, she said.