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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 11, 2005

Petro tells state schools to keep partner benefits

Wait for a court to rule on ban amendment, attorney general says

Columbus--Ohio�s attorney general has advised state universities offering domestic partner benefits to continue with the programs unless a court orders them to stop, according to representatives from two of the schools.

Some supporters of Issue 1, a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and recognition of unmarried couples, said before it passed last fall that it would force five state universities offering benefits to same-sex partners of faculty and staff to halt them.

However, three months after voters added Article 15, Section 11 to the state constitution, Ohio State University, Cleveland State, Youngstown State, Miami University and Ohio University are still providing benefits to same-sex partners of employees.

Ohio University spokesman Jack Jeffery and Cleveland State University director of public affairs Brian Johnston both confirmed to the Athens News that Attorney General Jim Petro�s office instructed them to continue with the benefits unabated until a court told them to stop.

Petro opposed Issue 1, arguing that it would further damage Ohio�s faltering economy. The stance put him at odds with Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who supported the amendment.

Both men are expected to run for governor in 2006, when Bob Taft will be forced out of office by term limits. Taft also opposed the amendment, as did state auditor Betty Montgomery, expected to be the third major Republican candidate in the gubernatorial race.

After the amendment took effect, the state universities assumed a �wait and see� stance, which has now been validated by Petro�s office.

�Given the vagueness of the language of Issue 1, it�s hard for anyone to know what it really means,� OSU law professor Ruth Colker told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in December. �The best and clearest reading is that it bans gay marriage and civil unions and nothing else. Since we don�t have gay marriage and civil unions in the state of Ohio right now, it really doesn�t have any effect.�

LGBT representatives at two schools offering benefits were pleased with the missive from Petro�s office.

�I am very heartened that the attorney general�s office is standing by the universities and not requiring them to take back benefits that may, in the end, be recognized by the courts anyway,� said Brett Beemyn, director of the GLBT Student Services office of Ohio State University. �It would have been grossly unfair to the faculty and staff who just began receiving benefits to be told, �On second thought, we are going to continue to discriminate against you.� �

Beemyn�s counterpart at Ohio University, GLBT Programs coordinator Mickey Hart, agreed.

�I am hopeful that the attorney general�s action is the first step in reversing this hateful and poorly thought out legislation,� Hart said. �University LGBT employees have worked hard over the past ten years to gain equal benefits and therefore equal pay from their employers.�

�I predict if these benefits are now denied, we will see employees suing the universities or a loss of valuable employees to universities in more welcoming states,� he continued.

The trustees of the University of Toledo are holding off on offering domestic partner benefits in new contracts, claiming that they cannot afford to defend them against a legal challenge. The president of the university supports granting the benefits.

Two other possible effects of the amendment are currently being felt in courtrooms in Ohio. A number of defense attorneys are challenging domestic violence charges on the grounds that, since their clients were not married to their alleged victims, the domestic violence laws can no longer be applied.

The first challenge was thrown out. The judge in the case, heard in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, said that Issue 1 did not apply since the alleged crime occurred before the amendment took effect.

A lesbian woman in Franklin County is also trying to get a shared custody agreement with her former partner overturned on the grounds that Issue 1 bars such orders from being recognized.



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