Bill ending spousal rape exemption passes Ohio House almost unanimously
This story was last updated on November 29, 2023 at 5:30 p.m.
Lawmakers in the Ohio House voted nearly unanimously Wednesday, by 74 to 1, to close a "loophole" in the Ohio Revised Code that treats spousal rape differently than non-spousal rape.
House Bill 161 is not the first bipartisan attempt by Ohio lawmakers to eliminate marital exemptions to rape and other sexual misconduct.
Sen. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), who now serves as minority leader, and former Sen. Sean O’Brien tried in 2019, but their bill stalled in committee. Former Reps. Laura Lanese and Kristin Boggs introduced a similar bipartisan bill in 2021 with no better luck. Semi routine and thus far unsuccessful attempts date back to the mid-1980s, Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) said in an earlier interview.
“Single or married, we should have a criminal justice system that treats people equally,” Miranda said during floor testimony. “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.”
But Wednesday is the first time legislation made it to, and through, the full House chamber. Rep. Bill Dean (R-Xenia) was the sole lawmaker to vote against HB 161.
Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) said he didn't think he'd be the only legislator to sign on as an additional cosponsor.
“I thought it was a pretty common sense piece of legislation,” Williams said. “It should never be an affirmative defense to rape, that you're married to someone.”
HB 161 cleared committee unanimously in October, with the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, and other sexual violence organizations signed on as proponents.
Miranda and cosponsor Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville) introduced HB 161, the latest iteration of a proposal that would ax all of the existing spousal exemptions. If the bill passes, victims of marital sexual assault would also be able to testify against their perpetrator.
“This is an important milestone for safer families and healthier communities,” Hillyer said during floor testimony. “One does not give up their protections under the equal justice of the law simply by saying ‘I do’ at the altar.”
Current law offers certain privileges to perpetrators who sexually assault their spouses, depending on whether they live together, by barring prosecution of those cases. It is illegal to rape anyone by using “force or threat of force” in Ohio. But the same part of the Ohio Revised Code says it is technically legal to drug a partner in marriage, or to coerce them into sexual conduct.
It now heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration.