Ohio attorney general opposes gay marriage ban

Ohio attorney general Jim Petro is the first statewide elected official to come out in opposition to the proposed state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, saying vague language makes it the most intolerant-seeming of proposals in 10 other states. Petro, arguing the amendment would hurt Ohio's economy, is splitting from fellow Republican statewide officials who support the proposal: Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and auditor Betty Montgomery, who might be Petro's opponents in the 2006 governor's race. Gov. Bob Taft has not taken a public stance, saying his legal team is still reviewing the amendment language. Blackwell has not determined whether the question will be on the statewide November 2 ballot.

In addition to banning gay marriage, the proposal seeks to ban any type of civil unions or the legal privileges of marriage for any unmarried couple. The state already has a law banning gay marriage. Petro singled out as "vague and confusing" the second sentence, which says the state can't recognize relationships that "approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage." Both supporters and opponents have said the language could prevent cities and public universities from offering health benefits to the domestic partners of unmarried employees, and some opponents say it could extend to private employers too. "We're trying to keep our young people in Ohio," Petro said. "We're trying to make sure our businesses have all the recruiting tools necessary."

Blackwell said high taxes are more harmful to the economy. Montgomery, the previous attorney general, said same-sex couples could use contracts and living wills to obtain many of the rights married couples enjoy. Other legal experts said such contracts and wills might be vulnerable to court challenge under the amendment. "The more people I talk to about this, and the more people have time to digest what the proposed amendment says and what it would do, the more people are struck by how far it sweeps," said Marc Spindelman, assistant professor at Ohio State University's law school.

Similar amendments to ban same-sex marriage have passed this year in Missouri and Louisiana, and measures are on the ballots in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Utah. Some stop at defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but Ohio's amendment backers say that definition doesn't go far enough. Petitions in Ohio are still being verified. Checks by Ohio's 88 counties of an additional 144,000 signatures that were procured after the initial batch fell short by more than 42,000 are expected to be completed Tuesday, Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said. In Summit County some voters have reported to election officials that they discovered their signatures had been forged on petitions after they received a thank-you letter from the Republican Party.

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