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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
March 18, 2005

Petro didn't tell schools to continue benefits, but they may

Columbus--Ohio�s attorney general did not advise state universities offering domestic partner benefits to continue them for now, his spokesperson said.

Instead, it is up to the universities to decide whether or not to do so in light of the state�s new marriage ban amendment, said Kim Norris, chief of communications for Attorney General Jim Petro.

Since the attorney general must defend the state constitution if a court case pits the ban amendment against the benefits--and many believe one will--the state universities have been appointed a special counsel to represent them in this issue.

A March 7 story in the Athens News, as well as an ensuing Gay People�s Chronicle story last week, said university officials had been told that unless a court finds that the ban amendment outlaws them, the benefits may continue.

This drew a response from Norris and Ohio University spokesperson Jack Jeffery, who attributed the stories to a miscommunication on the part of Ohio University.

Issue 1, passed by voters last November, added Article 15, Section 11 to the state constitution. It bars recognition by any state or municipal body of any relationship other than marriage.

Legal challenges to domestic violence statutes relating to unmarried couples and a custody agreement between two lesbians are the first battlegrounds over defining the scope of the amendment, which was opposed by both Petro and Gov. Bob Taft.

�The previous statement by Ohio University that the attorney general�s office recommended universities that have domestic partner benefits should keep them in effect until their legality is determined was in error,� Jeffery said in a statement to the press.

In another statement, Norris said, �Recognizing there could be a potential conflict between the legal positions of Ohio University and other universities which offer domestic partner benefits and the attorney general�s role in defending the Ohio Constitution, the attorney general at the request of the universities appointed special counsel.�

�It is up to the boards of trustees of each of the universities to decide whether to continue or discontinue domestic partner benefits now that the amendment is in effect,� she continued.

Cleveland State University, another of the five schools currently offering domestic partner benefits, confirmed that special counsel had been assigned but the attorney general had not told them to continue offering benefits.

Norris did acknowledge that, while Petro did not recommend that the schools continue offering benefits, he also did not request that they halt them.

�We will defend the constitution,� Norris said. �As far as the potential challenges, we�ll have to wait and see what is presented first.�

Petro, a likely Republican candidate for governor in the 2006 elections, opposed Issue 1 on the grounds that it would drive businesses out of Ohio and deter others from moving into the state, harming Ohio�s otherwise faltering economy.

His likely opponent, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, supported Issue 1, going so far as to say in a letter to supporters that he had promised the Bush administration that the proposed amendment would make it onto the ballot.

Blackwell�s statements drew criticism, since his office was responsible for verifying the petitions used to place the measure on the ballot.

In addition to Ohio University and Cleveland State University, Ohio State University, Miami University and Youngstown State University also offer benefits.

They are continuing to do so unless they are ordered not to.

Trustees of the University of Toledo backed away from an offer to add the benefits to union contracts after Issue 1 passed.

Among the five schools, only about 180 faculty and staff members are receiving the benefits, most of them at OSU.

The 13 state universities chose the Columbus office of Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur several months ago as the special counsel to represent them on the partner benefits issue, Norris said.

 

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