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Bill ending Ohio's spousal rape 'loophole' makes it out of committee

Reps. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) testify during the House Criminal Justice Committee on Oct. 17, 2023.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
Reps. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) testify during the House Criminal Justice Committee on Oct. 17, 2023.

More than a half-century after other states began overturning the same provisions, Ohio still treats spousal rape differently than non-spousal rape—but a bill to change that cleared the house criminal justice committee Tuesday afternoon.

House Bill 161 is not the first 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, said Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park).

“Unfortunately, each one of those times, we couldn't get it far enough to get it to the floor,” Miranda said in an interview.

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.

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 a bipartisan solution to an archaic piece of code,” she said. “The reality is, married persons do not forfeit their right to bodily autonomy just because they got married, and so in essence, that's what HB 161 fixes.”

No opposition has yet emerged to HB 161.

Now that it has cleared an initial hurdle, Miranda knocked on her wooden desk before she said she wanted to see it on the Ohio House floor by mid-November.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at sdonaldson@statehousenews.org.