House Democrats seek to codify both same-sex and interracial marriage in Ohio

By: - October 18, 2023 4:50 am

Jim Obergefell, the Ohio resident who was the lead party in a U.S. Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, speaks at a press conference in support of a bill to codify same-sex marriage in Ohio law. Photo courtesy of Ideastream

Democrats in the Ohio House want to change state law to bring it in line with federal legislation and court cases that legalized same-sex and interracial marriage.

They are seeking the change to “create parity” in marriage law, but also for fear court precedent might be on the chopping block in the future.

The bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, and state Rep. Tavia Galonski, D-Columbus, would eliminate the Ohio Revised Code language that marriage “may only be entered into by one man and one woman,” which has been in Ohio law since 2004.

“Any marriage between persons of the same sex is against the strong public policy of this state,” the current law states.

The law also states that same sex marriage “shall be considered and treated in all respects as having no legal force or effect in this state and shall not be recognized by this state.”

The law does not match up with federal marriage law, which in 2015, allowed nationwide same-sex married through the U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges.

In 2022, the Respect for Marriage Act was approved in U.S. Congress, which codifies same-sex and interracial marriages. While the congressional bill requires states to recognize both same-sex and interracial marriages, it does not force individual states to allow the marriages to happen.

Ohio native Jim Obergefell took his case all the way to the nation’s highest court because he and his terminally ill partner of 21 years, John Arthur, wanted to be married, just as any other straight couple in the country can do.

“When we filed our lawsuit, it was because John was nearing the end of his life … and we wanted his death certificate to say he died a married man,” Obergefell said Tuesday in a press conference on the new Ohio bill.

Being married changed the couple’s lives in many financial and legal ways, but Obergefell said the main motivation is much more basic.

“Taking each other’s hands and saying ‘I do,’ it changed everything,” Obergefell said. “Every person deserves that.”

In the cemetery where Arthur’s family has a plot, his grandparents required family members to be direct descendants or spouses, which could have left Obergefell out.

When it came to medical decisions for his partner of 21 years, Obergefell said a legal marriage gave him more freedoms to stand by his husband’s side.

“That feeling, being recognized, knowing that you exist as a lawfully recognized couple,” Obergefell said. “You can’t put words to how important that is.”

While the Obergefell case is still law nationwide and overrides state law as a federal case, Democrats and marriage advocates worry that recent cases overturning 50-year-old case law, namely abortion rights previously held in Roe v. Wade, could spell a sea change in the way the U.S. Supreme Court (and state courts for that matter) treat legal precedent.

“Any claims that these concerns are overblown, I just point them back to the Dobbs decision,” said House Minority Leader Allison Russo, during the Tuesday press conference.

The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling was the decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, but within the ruling was a statement by Justice Clarence Thomas arguing that the court should “reconsider” other cases related to interpreting the rights of citizens through the 14th Amendment.

Reconsideration, Thomas said, should include the Obergefell case, the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas which dealt with same-sex relationships, and Griswold v. Connecticut, a 60’s-era case involving contraception use by married couples.

As the Ohio bill’s co-sponsors, Miranda said she and Galonski have specifically asked for opinions from the GOP supermajority before the bill is officially introduced.

“We’ve gotten some feedback from some of our colleagues across the aisle because we are very intentional with making this bipartisan,” Miranda said.

Miranda said they have received feedback, but she did not comment on the likelihood of the bill making it through both chambers, which are both Republican supermajorities.

After the bill is formally introduced, it will face committee consideration on both sides of the legislature before it hits full Senate and House votes.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.