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Ohio gay marriage amendment bound for court

Ohio gay marriage amendment bound for court

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment denying legal status to unmarried couples say it's needed to protect Ohio's two-month-old gay marriage ban from a court challenge. But lawyers, including the state representative who wrote that law, say the amendment is so unclear that it will lead to years of court battles if it is written into the Ohio constitution. Members of the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage submitted 391,794 signatures on Tuesday to Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's office. They'll need almost 323,000 certified to get the measure on the November ballot. Ohio's proposed amendment would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It also would prohibit extending any legal status to unmarried couples "that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage." The language would lead to "years, if not decades, of litigation" to determine the effect on such arrangements as two-person adoptions approved in another state, said Kent Markus, associate law professor at Capital University. "All of the problems arise in the last phrase," said Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican and attorney. He wrote the state's gay marriage law so it would apply only to rights already in law, such as not testifying against a spouse in court. Words such as "intent" and "approximate" are by definition vague, he said, and courts would have to decide on "design, qualities, significance, or effect." "When I go in a ballot box will I vote yes on it? Probably, because I appreciate what they're trying to do," Seitz said. "As a lawyer, I would not put my own stamp of approval on it." Of the 13 states in which voters in the coming months will decide whether to amend their state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage, three of them address only the "one man, one woman" definition of marriage. "That's a waste of time if you are just going to protect the name and you don't care about the benefits," said Phil Burress, president of Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values and leader of the petition drive. Burress said the amendment is needed on top of the law because the highest court in Massachusetts allowed gay marriage and he doesn't trust the Ohio supreme court to rule differently. But he acknowledged those justices would have to interpret the amendment. "There's no way to avoid the courts," he said. "More important is whether it's going to get on the ballot." Burress said he hoped courts would rule that the amendment means the end of health insurance that some public universities, the city of Columbus, and many private employers have extended to employees' same-sex partners. The amendment doesn't specifically mention public universities or their private employment contracts, but they still could be considered part of state government, said John F. Burns, director of legal affairs at Ohio University, which offers the benefits. Alan Melamed, manager of the campaign opposing the amendment, said the proposal would affect couples such as senior citizens who live together but don't marry because they would lose pension benefits from a deceased spouse. He said it also could affect employment benefits offered by many corporations, which would hurt employee recruiting. "They can create a benefit; they just can't enforce it," Melamed said. Amendment supporters who helped sort and box petitions at a Columbus church said they hoped for a broad effect because people should not live together out of wedlock. The Reverend Kazava Smith, pastor of Corinthian Baptist Church in Cincinnati, said approving civil unions is a "slippery slope."

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