State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican representing Mount Lookout, stirred up ire from LGBTQ advocates recently when he proposed legislation that would require teachers and other “government agents” to notify parents when their students appear to be showing preferences for different gender identities. That law would also make administering gender dysphoria therapy to minors a felony without the consent of both parents.
But this isn’t the first time Brinkman has raised eyebrows in the General Assembly. He’s been a reliably staunch conservative during his stints in the Ohio State House — one seemingly unafraid of offending.
One of his most unpopular stands: being the sole vote against Ohio’s belated ratification of the 14th Amendment, which extended citizenship to freed slaves and guaranteed all Americans equal protection under the law.
Ohio lawmakers initially approved the 14th Amendment, authored by Ohio’s U.S. Rep. John A Bingham, in 1867. But white Ohio voters rejected a ballot referendum awarding blacks the right to vote, and the General Assembly reversed the ratification of the amendment in 1868.
The 14th Amendment has been integral to the judicial reasoning behind a number of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases, including the federal school desegregation order in 1954’s Brown v. The Board of Education; Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion; and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 decision extending same-sex marriage rights across all 50 states.
University of Cincinnati law professor Gabriel Chin and his students dredged up the fact that the state never ratified the 14th Amendment while reviewing state code in 2003. Chin and other advocates, including now-Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, argued the state should ratify the amendment quickly.
Then-state Sen. Mark Mallory sponsored a bill to rectify the situation. Though there was some back-and-forth about the legislation (including another Republican lawmaker implying that Mallory was illiterate), it eventually passed both houses almost unanimously on March 19 that year. The only holdout: Brinkman.
Brinkman didn’t say much during House proceedings, but the Mount Lookout Republican took a states’ rights tack in explaining his vote afterward.
“It's misapplied constantly by the country to get states to do things they don't want to do,” he said of the 14th Amendment. “Most importantly to me, 45 million babies have been murdered since judges forced Roe v. Wade down the throats of citizens.”
Brinkman also mentioned E-Check, the emissions screening for automobiles that was designed to cut down on pollution.
Why not share those thoughts during the legislative proceedings? Brinkman said he didn’t want to stir up controversy around the subject.
At the time, conservative lawmakers, including then-State Rep. Bill Seitz, argued that the ratification should be amended to note that Ohio rejects judicial interpretations of the law that uphold abortion and other issues conservatives have fought against.
But for Chin, the UC professor, the issue was far simpler.
“This resolution is about the basics,” he said at the time. “The basics are that every member of the General Assembly and every Ohioan who thinks about it agrees that people born or naturalized in the United States should be citizens regardless of race, everyone is entitled to equal protections under law, and should not be deprived of life, liberty, and property under the law. Within that framework, there are a lot of details we can disagree on. But it's very important for us to acknowledge the basic things we agree upon as Americans and Ohioans.”
Brinkman took his lumps that year, eventually getting voted “worst legislator” in a Columbus Magazine poll of his colleagues, aides, lobbyists, journalists and state administration officials.
“I’d be embarrassed to compromise as much as these others do," Brinkman told the Cincinnati Enquirer at the time. "I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror,”
Of course, things change. Take it as a sign of our shifting political climate, or of Brinkman’s evolved legislative chops, but he was nowhere to be found in the “worst legislator” rankings when Columbus Magazine redid their survey in 2016. In fact, Brinkman ranked second in the "most principled lawmaker" category.