Monday, July 28, 2008


I posted a couple of weeks ago about the narrow definition of family member in the Ohio Paid Sick Days initiative. Since then, I've spoken with the initiative's campaign manager, Brian Dunn, and looked into the role of Equality Ohio and other gay rights groups.

What I have to report is both sad and infuriating.

Ohio has a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that bars marriage and recognition of marriage for same-sex couples but also says the state “shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage.” Perhaps Ohio could not mandate paid sick leave that employees could use to care for a sick unmarried partner. That doesn't really create a "legal status," but someone could argue that it does.

But, as my earlier post pointed out, there are at least two good alternative options: include anyone who is a member of the employee's household or include the definition that federal workers now have -- anyone related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. The latter definition is in Senator's Kennedy's Healthy Families Act.

Brian Dunn told me that Ohioans for Healthy Families, a coalition spearheaded by SIEU, consulted with their lawyers and was told that a more inclusive definition would not be possible given the state DOMA. This is just dead wrong. Workers have households containing a variety of individuals; allowing a worker to balance work and family responsibilities by using sick leave to care for a sick household member would not be "recognizing a legal status" between the worker and the sick household member that "approximated marriage."

Sure, one of the right-wing groups that pushed for the Ohio DOMA might challenge the law. They would lose. Last year the Ohio Supreme Court ruled, 6-1, that the state could prosecute a man for violence against a woman he lived with "as a spouse" without running afoual of the state DOMA. In the lead-up to the case, one of the strongest proponents of Ohio's DOMA said it would not violate DOMA to make domestic violence against any household member a crime.

So now we know where Ohioans for Healthy Families was coming from. I blame both bad legal advice and what I imagine to be an inability to tolerate even the slightest chance that a right-wing maniac would challenge the law. Proponents of the initiative decided it was better to sacrifice the variety of households, including those in which many same-sex couples live. I repeat what I said in my earlier post. Shame on them.

Now as for the gay rights groups, they were not asleep at the wheel. The gay community knew the campaign excluded them, and Equality Ohio voted to oppose the measure. I have since heard that Equality Ohio voted to remain neutral on the initiative, but I have been unable to confirm this. The Human Rights Campaign was involved as well, and dealt directly with SIEU. They did supply language such as the definition in the Healthy Families Act. The initiative's sponsors were unmoved.

So this leads up to the obvious the initiative or not? It's a painful choice. Is there a way to vote for this initiative but send a loud and clear message to SIEU and to all the state level groups working on paid sick leave that what they did was unacceptable and unnecessary and should not be repeated elsewhere? Is there a way to vote for this initiative, which goes by the name "The Healthy Families Act," while not diluting or compromising on the provision of the federal "Healthy Families Act" that includes the much broader definition?

If I lived in Ohio, I know I wouldn't just vote against this initiative. That wouldn't make my voice heard in other states and across the country. But would I vote for it, knowing this history? Well, I'd like to hear what Ohioans have to say about this...

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Nancy -

great overview of a proposed law that raises tough questions. I am wondering, though, whether you go far enough in apologizing to the LGBT activists in Ohio for your July 9th post.

Clearly, you had not done your research at the time of your first post. Groups were actively involved and tried to get appropriate language into the bill. The two newspaper articles you link to above document some of this. And, both of these articles were available on the web prior to your initial post.

It's great that you've acknowledged this now, but you seem to stop short of an actual apology to these groups.

I raise this because I think your work is important, but that it is undercut by (from my perspective at least) your preconception that LGBT orgs are not sufficiently enough involved in work beyond marriage equality.