Lambda Legal's Response to Issue One

Lambda Legal Advises Gay and Lesbian Ohioans That 'Issue 1' Blocks Marriage for Same-Sex Couples, Not Domestic Partner Rights and Other Protections

'We will not let Issue 1 be abused further to strip away protections for same-sex couples.'

The antigay amendment to Ohio's Constitution that voters passed on November 2, known as "Issue 1," bans marriage for same-sex couples but does not affect other protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender Ohioans, says Lambda Legal.

On November 2, Ohio voters passed Issue 1 with more than 60 percent of the vote. In the buildup to the election, several prominent Ohioans spoke out against it, including Republicans Governor Bob Taft and Attorney General Jim Petro. Lambda Legal said that, while the amendment is sloppily worded, its legal impact does not extend beyond marriage.

"We're deeply disappointed that marriage discrimination has been written into the state's Constitution, but we will not let Issue 1 be abused further to strip away protections for same-sex couples," said Heather Sawyer, Senior Counsel for Lambda Legal in its Midwest Regional Office in Chicago. "Issue 1 targets 'legal statuses' that 'approximate' marriage, but nothing does. The rights and respect marriage brings are unique and affect every aspect of life. Wedding bells don't ring just because your boss gives you domestic partner health care or a court protects your relationship with your children. We are determined to protect same-sex couples' rights in Ohio and encourage people to call us so we can protect them from any kind of attack."

Lambda Legal said that all of the rights and responsibilities available to same-sex couples prior to the election, except for marriage, remain legal in Ohio. Some of the protections not affected by Issue 1 include:

Domestic partnership benefits extended by state universities and other government employers are not barred by Issue 1. Five state universities, including Cleveland State, Miami University, Ohio State, Ohio University, and Youngstown State, all provide domestic partnership benefits for their employees. Universities make these benefits available to foster a tolerant workplace environment and to attract the best candidates for job vacancies and can continue to do so. Many courts nationally have recognized that offering domestic partner benefits has nothing to do with marriage.

Parent-child relationships are not jeopardized by Issue 1. In 2002, the Ohio State Supreme Court validated shared custody agreements for same-sex couples who are jointly raising a child. Last month a state appeals court reaffirmed that decision, saying a child "benefits from having two caregivers legally responsible for his welfare. Both will have the ability to make medical decisions on his behalf and be able to interact with teachers and school administers without executing additional documents." Similar agreements have long been possible without regard to marriage and are unaffected by Issue 1.

Domestic partner registries are not barred by Issue 1. Registries that simply recognize domestic partners in our communities are not in jeopardy. For example, Cleveland Heights, which instituted a domestic partnership registry last year that is funded by the couples, is not barred from continuing its registry.

Domestic partnership benefits extended by private employers are not barred by Issue 1. Many private employers in Ohio already extend domestic partnership benefits to their LGBT employees, and they can continue to do so. Issue 1 does not reach the private sector.

Wills, medical powers of attorney, and other basic protections available to individuals to provide for their own and their partner's security are not barred by Issue 1. Anyone with means can use such documents, which are no substitute for the automatic protections of marriage and intestacy laws protecting spouses.

Lambda Legal's Midwestern Regional Help Desk can be reached at 312.663.4413.