Ohio governor Bob Taft on Friday approved one of the country's most far-reaching same-sex marriage bans, saying it was urgent because the nation's first legally sanctioned gay weddings could take place as early as May in Massachusetts. The bill also prohibits state employees from getting marital benefits spelled out in state law for their unmarried partners, whether gay or straight. Taft, who signed the bill in private, issued a rare statement explaining his reasons. "This is not a law of intolerance," he said. "I do not endorse, nor does this law provide for, discrimination against any Ohio citizen." But, he said, it was necessary to safeguard Ohio's marriage laws because the Massachusetts supreme judicial court, by a 4-3 vote, decided to redefine marriage in that state, holding that a denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a violation of the Massachusetts constitution. "Ohio could have same-sex couples who were married in Massachusetts taking legal action in Ohio to recognize that marriage and to obtain the resulting benefits," he said, adding that families and parents are under attack from "our social culture" and the new law would send a strong affirmative message to children. "Marriage is an essential building block of our society, an institution we must reaffirm," he added.
The new law, which takes effect in 90 days, makes Ohio the 38th state with a ban on the recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Gay rights groups consider Ohio's legislation, dubbed a "super DOMA," particularly restrictive because of the benefits ban. Taft received more than 10,500 letters, phone calls, e-mails, and faxes from opponents and supporters of the bill. Slightly more opponents, about 5,300, contacted his office. That number represents a far greater response than most bills receive, although it is equivalent to other high-profile legislation, spokesman Orest Holubec said. Karen Holbrook, president of Ohio State University, was one of the opponents, writing Taft on Monday to question his support for the bill. She said it could hurt the university's ability to attract and keep employees. "We will lose some of our best and brightest" employees if the bill is enacted, her letter said. But Rep. Bill Seitz, the Cincinnati Republican who sponsored the bill, said the law protects current benefits, such as the ability to challenge a will, that are provided under law for spouses only. "We're getting all this publicity because we're the first state after Massachusetts legitimized same-sex marriage," Seitz said.
Rep. Michael Skindell, a Lakewood Democrat who opposed the bill, said the new law does nothing to protect marriage and sends a message of discrimination. "Marriages fall apart on account of our disrespect of the institution as reflected in the TV reality shows such as Who Wants to Marry My Dad? and permitting an Elvis impersonator to preside over a marriage between two individuals who met the previous evening," Skindell said. The bill "is a message of discrimination against gays and lesbians that is unacceptable and should not be officially sanctioned," he said.