Local rep only ‘no’ vote on eliminating spousal exception for rape

Other bills honor Kenton Ridge grad, encourage organ donation

The Ohio House voted 74-1 Wednesday to remove the state’s antiquated spousal exceptions for the offenses of rape, sexual battery and various other sexual offenses. The bill, along with a slate of others, will now move to the Senate for consideration.

Rep. Bill Dean, R-Xenia, was the only representative to vote no on the spousal exception bill. He did not state a reason for his vote on the House floor and declined to comment to the Dayton Daily News.

Dean told a reporter from the USA Today Network Ohio: “I personally don’t believe that a man, if he’s married and has physical relations with his wife, that can be considered rape.”

“I also know that if they’re living apart or they’re divorced and stuff, sure, that’d be rape. I think this law can be used as a wedge between husband and wife and families and a husband and wife’s relationship,” the USA Today Network quotes him as saying.

With otherwise bipartisan support, the House moved to get rid of a longstanding loophole in the Ohio Revised Code that Democratic Whip Jessica Miranda, D-Forest Park, said protects predators who rape or sexually abuse their spouses so long as there is “no threat of force or violence.”

In practice, this loophole allows a spouse to “drug their partner, rendering them unconscious and unable to consent, rape them, and be shielded from prosecution under current law,” Miranda said. She explained that If the same scenario happened between two people that were not married, the victim could seek justice.

“Sexual assault is never acceptable under any circumstances, single or married. We should have a criminal justice system that treats people equally. We should have a criminal justice system that empowers survivors to seek justice, and we should have a criminal justice system that believes people when they say they have been wronged,” Miranda said before the vote.

Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Cincinnati, who oversaw the committee hearings for House Bill 161, said spousal assault survivors from across the state came to deliver “devastating, powerful testimony” in favor of the bill, which informed her stance. “It’s our job, I believe, to protect Ohioans here, and this bill is a step in the right direction.”

Sponsoring the bill with Miranda was Rep. Brett Hillyer, R-Uhrichsville, who called the bill an important milestone for making Ohio families safer. “One does not give up their protection and equal justice under laws when they say ‘I do’ at the altar,” Hillyer said.

Attempts to rid Ohio law of the spousal rape exception have failed in the previous two iterations of the Ohio General Assembly, never making it so far as a floor vote. As a result, Ohio is one of only a few states in the country to maintain its spousal sexual assault loophole.

After the vote, House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, was asked why the Ohio legislature was reticent to update its laws to protect spouses, to which he replied, “I don’t know the answer to why it took so long. There’s plenty of things I think all of us kind of scratch our heads and wonder why certain things are (the way they are).”

The bill now moves on to the state Senate, where it will have the immediate support of Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, who introduced similar legislation in 2019 to no avail.

“These changes must be made to modernize Ohio’s rape code and give survivors of sex crimes the justice they deserve,” Antonio said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to ensure this bill reaches the governor’s desk.”

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