COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A bill protecting the legitimacy of interracial and same-sex marriage was signed into law on Tuesday. However, existing Ohio statutes and constitutional amendments could still be a burden and a barrier for some couples.
President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act after the legislation passed 61-36 in the Senate and 258-169 in the House of Representatives. The bill requires a state to recognize a marriage from elsewhere regardless of the sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin of the individuals. It also revokes the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that recognized marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman.”
“Any step that is toward equality is a step in the right direction,” said Maria Bruno, public policy director for Equality Ohio. “Undoubtedly, there are going to be marriages that are more strongly protected under the Respect for Marriage Act and that is a good thing.”
The act passed with bipartisan support, co-sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who was one of 12 Republicans joining Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and the other Senate Democrats in supporting the measure. In the House, 39 Republicans joined all Democrats to pass the bill, including Ohio Republicans Mike Carey, Anthony Gonzalez, Dave Joyce, and Mike Turner.
Seventy-one percent of Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be recognized as valid by law, according to a recent Gallup poll. In addition, polling from 2021 shows 55% of Republicans support the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
“Having Republicans openly voice support for LGBTQ+ couples is a good thing; we want to encourage that type of progression and progress,” Bruno said. “The fight is never done and this is definitely no exception, but we are happy to see both [Ohio] senators take the initiative to care about protecting marriage equality.”
What could happen to marriage in Ohio
The act comes after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a 1973 ruling on 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.
“What I am hopeful about is that this will be one step of many to protect LGBTQ youth and all youth against some of the impact, whether intended or unintended, of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs to largely take substantive due process right away from Americans,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project.
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 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.
‘A little glimmer of hope’
Support for the act also follows an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ incidents, including a shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado marking the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ+ community in the U.S. since Orlando’s Pulse shooting in 2016. Advocates have pointed out that the rise in threats coincided with hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in legislatures across the nation.
At least 340 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year. More than 140 of them target transgender rights. Thirteen states have signed these bills into law while an additional 23 states have introduced similar bills, a report from the Human Rights Campaign shows.
Zac Boyer, director of programs and marketing for Stonewall Columbus, said they hope the act allows others to see the humanity in LGBTQ+ identities amid the wave of negativity.
“I think, for a lot of LGBTQ+ folks, [the act] is going to be a little glimmer of hope,” Boyer said. “Something like this at a federal level speaks volumes, especially when there has been so much bipartisan collaboration.”
Boyer said more action should be taken by the state’s legislature to protect the LGBTQ+ community, like passing the Ohio Fairness Act, which clarifies sex discrimination to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity of expression.
However, Ohio is home to several anti-LGBTQ+ bills moving through the legislature. A “divisive concepts” bill opponents have dubbed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill was introduced in April, a bill banning various medical procedures for transgender or non-binary minors was introduced in May, and a bill banning transgender athletes from participating in sports was introduced in June. In addition, the state’s board of education is considering a resolution that could reject proposed federal protections for LGBTQ+ students.
“Though there might be a federal or national protection, I think oftentimes — if nothing else, for the sentiment — having state protections is really important for that state’s contingency,” Boyer said.