GOP Places Partisanship Over Protection

Editorial Board

Editor’s Note: This article discusses rape and sexual assault.

Ohio is one of eight states that still includes marital exceptions to its felony rape laws, and it may very well stay that way. The state’s current policy creates a loophole that allows a lesser penalty to be imposed on a spouse who drugs and assaults their partner. In a repugnant display of partisanship, a Democratic bill that would eliminate this exemption has gained no support from the GOP. This is politics at its worst.

Democratic Representatives Greta Johnson and Kristen Boggs introduced House Bill 97 last month in an effort to rephrase the current provision’s language, which requires that a person prove “force or threat of force” in marital rape cases. This is the second time that Johnson has attempted to move a bill addressing the issue through the state’s legislature, but it appears that just like in 2015, the proposal will fall short without Republican support. The bill also includes provisions about sexual imposition, gross sexual imposition and sexual battery. All hope is not lost, but it does not seem like any GOP members in Ohio will be attaching their name to the legislation any time soon.

Though the bill has yet to be reviewed by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, some within the organization have expressed skepticism about the bill’s potential effects. OPAA member John Murphy told The Dayton Daily News that legislation eliminating marital exemptions could lead to false claims in custody battles or divorce cases.

The problems of proof was one concern,” Murphy said of Johnson’s 2015 push to eliminate the exception. “This happens between husband and wife in private — it’s one person’s word against another.”

This logic flops on its face, though, because the alternative suggests there should be no laws regulating rape at all since these situations often boil down to contradictory narratives. On the flipside, Johnson demonstrates a much more nuanced understanding about the intricacies of intimate-partner violence, an issue that should easily allow politicians to reach across the aisle. Noting it still may be an uphill battle, Johnson remained positive about the bill’s future in an interview with The Dayton Daily News, but criticized the lack of Republican support for a bill that simply attempts to protect people against sexual assault — at the very least in the courtroom.

“Women will say ‘I had sex with him so he wouldn’t hit me again,’” Johnson said in the same interview. “They aren’t even acknowledging that that’s rape or that is sexual violence. There is either consent or there is rape. Those are two very different things.”

Partisanship plaguing forward progress is not a new story in politics, but it certainly crosses a line when it extends to such blatantly unnecessary blocks on bills of this nature. The marital exemption law is also far from an anomaly in the Ohio legislature. There are a number of other problematic sexual assault policies currently in place, including laws that only qualify domestic violence as an occurrence between spouses, those living together or family members; thus, excluding dating couples and other partnerships. Georgia is the only other state that has such an exemption.

When the House addresses this bill next month it should put partisanship aside, at least temporarily, for a common-sense reform. Johnson puts it best in an interview with The Independent.

“Protecting victims of sexual assault and rape should have nothing to do with partisan affiliation,” she said. “We must modernise [sic] Ohio’s laws and eradicate unacceptable policy that allows someone to commit violence against their spouse. Women and men experiencing sexual violence at the hands of their spouses should not be denied the right to seek justice just because they happen to be married to the offender.”