COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The U.S. Senate is considering a bill that would protect the legitimacy of same-sex marriage after the House of Representatives approved the legislation with bipartisan support.
The Respect for Marriage Act would require a state to recognize a marriage from elsewhere regardless of the sex, race, ethnicity or national origin of the individuals. It would also revoke the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that recognized marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman.”
The bill comes after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling that guaranteed the right to abortion. A concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas called on the court to reconsider other rulings that used similar reasoning, like the right to privacy. Among those decisions was Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in June 2015.
However, the Respect for Marriage Act would not offer all the same protections in place by Obergefell, especially in Ohio. Should the Court deem same-sex marriage unconstitutional, the bill would allow states to determine whether to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Ohio, along with 25 other states, have statutes and constitutional amendments in place that had prohibited same-sex marriage and would be reenacted if Obergefell were overturned, according to a report from the Movement Advancement Project.
In 2004, state lawmakers added language to the Ohio Revised Code that banned same-sex marriage, affirming that “a marriage may only be entered into by one man and one woman.” That same year, Ohio passed an amendment to the state’s constitution that read, “Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions.”
Should the Supreme Court overturn Obergefell, the Respect for Marriage Act would require Ohio only to recognize same-sex marriages from states where it is legal.
“I think [Roe v. Wade] being overturned was a wake-up call for a lot of people,” said Maria Bruno, public policy director of Equality Ohio – a group dedicated to furthering equality for LGBTQ+ people. “There were a lot of people who assumed that a Supreme Court precedent would stand the test of time in a way that it unfortunately hasn’t.”
Bruno said once there’s a recognition that a Supreme Court precedent isn’t a “silver bullet” to protect a right, there’s a lot more appetite to ensure those rights are protected through other legal methods.
Should Obergefell be overturned, Bruno said it would be an uphill battle to legalize same-sex marriage in Ohio. Still, she doesn’t anticipate the Ohio legislature will further restrict same-sex marriages past the constitutional amendment.
Gov. Mike DeWine alluded to reporters this week that further restrictions on same-sex couples is not on the table.
“We’re not going to have any kind of change in regard to marriage, for heaven’s sake,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen. That’s not what we should be talking about.”
But existing Ohio law would be a burden and a barrier for same-sex couples, Bruno said.
“The [Respect for Marriage Act] would at least preserve the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Ohio to marry in other states and have that marriage recognized in Ohio,” he said.
In the House, the Respect for Marriage Act passed in a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats. Four Ohio Republicans – Mike Carey, Anthony Gonzalez, Dave Joyce and Mike Turner – joined the four Ohio Democrats to support the measure. The other eight Ohio Republicans voted against.
“I think a large majority of Americans, Republican or Democrat, support same-sex marriage,” Bruno said. “I think that elected Republicans recognize that this is a pretty noncontroversial, straightforward issue.”
The legislation is under deliberation in the Senate, where Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is one of the bill’s sponsors. He announced support for same-sex marriage in 2013 after his son came out as gay.
Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee running for Portman’s seat once he retires next year, said Thursday he would vote against legalizing same-sex marriage.