Ohio lawmakers attempt — again — to make it illegal to drug and rape spouse

Posted at 6:29 PM, Oct 23, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In some cases, raping your spouse is still legal in Ohio.

However, a bipartisan bill to eliminate the spousal rape exception, one without opponents but stalls each and every time it is proposed, is finally moving forward.

RELATED: Bill to criminalize spousal rape in Ohio has no opponents, so why can't it pass?

It's the tenth year that Emily Gemar with the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence has been working to get rid of a loophole in state sexual assault laws.

"Married people have less protection under the law than unmarried people," Gemar said. "That is egregious."

Twenty years ago, Ohio outlawed "forcible" spousal rape — but lawmakers left in a provision that says purposely impairing your spouse's mental state with alcohol or drugs or waiting until they are unconscious to assault them is legal.

"No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another who is not the spouse of the offender or who is the spouse of the offender but is living separate and apart from the offender, when any of the following applies..." according to section 2907.02 of the state's Revised Code.

Other than drugging and then raping, a spouse can "have sex" with their partner if the victim is substantially impaired because of a mental or physical condition — or due to advanced age. Also, a spouse can "have sex" with their child bride, as the law doesn't count sex with a kid less than 13 years old as rape.

The exceptions to the sex offenses that currently apply are rape, sexual battery, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition.

"Women were considered to be property of their spouses," Gemar said. "That's such an outdated notion that does not belong in our state code any longer."

State Rep. Jessica Miranda (D-Forest Park) is trying to take it out.

"It's an archaic loophole that says raping your spouse is okay here in Ohio — I think we have collectively said no, it is not," Miranda said. "That is why we have introduced House Bill 161."

H.B. 161 makes it clear that all sexual assault is prohibited, no matter marital status.

Miranda survived sexual abuse and has a legislative focus on defending victims, introducing numerous bills all aimed at supporting survivors.

She joined forces with lawyer and state Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville) to introduce their bipartisan bill. Another attorney, state Rep. Josh Williams (R-Sylvania) is co-sponsoring.

There are no opponents to this bill, but some questions have been raised about what consent looks like and concerns that people would lie in divorce proceedings to gain custody of children.

"This bill does not change anything in terms of what is currently law; that evidence is still necessary," Miranda said.

However, victims would be given more opportunity to get justice. The bill allows them to testify against their spouse.

"The only reason why this kind of rape isn't prosecuted is because of a ring on somebody's finger?" Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau asked Gemar.

"Absolutely," Gemar responded. "Unfortunately, a marriage license in Ohio right now is still a defense to sexual violence."

The bill has made it the farthest it ever has. It will likely go to the House floor for a full vote in the coming weeks.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.