November 05 2004 12:00 AM ET
Ohio civil unions ban to be felt more in homes than workplaces
The economic effect of Ohio's new ban on civil unions will be difficult or even impossible to predict, business and legal experts said Wednesday. Ohioans amended the state constitution to deny legal status to all unmarried couples, with 62% of the vote on Tuesday. The measure, which takes effect December 2, was the broadest of same-sex marriage bans passed in 11 states.
The states that ban same-sex marriage will experience a subtle but hard-to-measure "chilling effect" from gay and lesbian employees who leave jobs or choose not to take a job in a hostile environment, said Rene Petrin, president of Boston-based Management Mentors, a consultancy that develops business mentor programs. "You don't know if someone leaves because they're gay or lesbian," he said. "Most people are going to quietly make a decision."
But the whole debate over impacts on employee recruiting and so-called "brain drain" entirely misses the point of what's wrong with Ohio's economy, said Ed Morrison, director of the Center for Regional Economic Issues at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "The state of Ohio faces very serious, fundamental problems," he said. "The fact that we're spending any time on this issue illustrates distorted priorities."
The economy loomed large in a campaign over an ostensibly moral question. Exit polls conducted for the Associated Press showed the amendment passing across many demographic groups, but the one group reliably opposed was those who said Ohio's economy is "poor." Lost convention revenue and other business in Cincinnati helped that city repeal an 11-year-old charter provision banning laws protecting gay people from discrimination. Voters in the city repealed that measure by about the same margins in which they approved the statewide marriage amendment.
Mayor Charlie Luken said voters thought "long and hard" and distinguished between defining marriage and outright discrimination, such as firing people over their sexual orientation. The "sideshow" of same-sex marriage only distracts from dealing with a struggling educational system, an outdated tax code, and relentless global economic pressure, Morrison said. "We've lost over 200,000 jobs. We're just not prepared," he said. Domestic-partner benefits are not the core issue when we deal with globalization."
The marriage amendment passed in every Ohio county but Athens, home to Ohio University, but the margin was smaller in urban centers such as Columbus.
Quentin Fields, personnel manager for a Columbus law firm, said he voted for Bush but against the amendment. "If it creates more bureaucracy, it's not going to help," he said. "Our economy's in the toilet. People will move."
The amendment could instead be a business magnet, said Chris Long, Akron-based executive director of the Christian Coalition of Ohio. "It will speak to people that Ohio is a family-friendly state where
traditional values are upheld and revered," he said.
Large Ohio employers that offer insurance to employees' domestic partners, such as Procter & Gamble, Federated Department Stores, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance, said they don't expect that to change. The amendments drafters said only that it would stop government bodies, including the eight public four-year universities, from offering such benefits in the future.
Ohio State, Miami, Cleveland State, and Youngstown State universities already offer insurance to their employees' same-sex partners, and some extend other benefits such as free tuition. The schools will confer on how it may affect them, said Ron Cole, spokesman for Youngstown State, which approved the benefits just last week. "At this point there's probably more questions than answers," Cole said.
Ohioans will be surprised by the amendment's reach into home lives, said Marc Spindelman, an Ohio State University law professor. Attorneys for unmarried clients charged with domestic violence "will trot out Issue 1 in service of their defense," he said.
While Ohioans age 60 and over voted 2 to 1 in favor of the amendment, AARP-Ohio opposed it. Spokeswoman Kathy Keller said the amendment hurts senior citizen couples who don't remarry because they don't want to lose health benefits from a deceased spouse. "This takes away the rights that older unmarried couples need to support and care for one another," Keller said.
Gov. Bob Taft, who supported the portion defining marriage as one man and one woman, said he opposed the amendment because of its "vague and ambiguous" second sentence. That part denies legal status for relationships that "intend to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage." "It's my hope [courts] will interpret it narrowly and not extend it to all sorts of private relationships," Taft said Wednesday.